GateHouse — For real, and I can say this because I have no particularly well-carved feelings on the Green Bay Packers, I felt terrible for the terrible replacement refs. Awful for their awfulness. Miserable for their miserable-ity. Sad for the sadness they brought upon us all, but also the melancholy must have felt slumping back to the locker room, hearts pounding, heads down, knowing that they had to hustle out of the stadium as speedily as they could, probably to get to their shift at Dunkin Donuts.
Seriously, how can you not have felt bad for these poor schlumps? Imagine their situation, that you were walking down the street, whistling a merry tune, a donut in your hand (sorry, totally stuck on the donut daydream now), and someone walks up to you with an oboe. They jam the oboe in your face and tell you in no uncertain terms that you’re playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that night at 8 p.m. And you’d better be at the top of your oboe-game, and the world’s most elite oboe players (oboists? Obots? Barack Oboemas?) would all be in attendance, affected by your every low note, and also 90 billion people would be watching, waiting for nothing else other than to see you jack something up so they could whine about it on AM oboe radio.
(And then maybe one time you get to the end of a symphony and you still haven’t figured out the first thing about your oboe and you end up screwing the pooch on the grand finale so badly that it ends up sounding like Hungarian death metal and everybody hates you, at least as much as everyone can hate an oboe player. Also note: The hypothetical orchestral terror is effective on the likely chance that you, the reader, are not an oboe player. If you, the reader, are an oboe player, please put this column down and turn to Marmaduke at once, which, I am told, is usually pretty low on oboe jokes.)
See, this is what I’m talking about right here.
Excepting whoever has to spin Romney’s poll numbers, refereeing is pretty much the worst job on Earth. It’s like being a copy editor, or a similar job in which the best-case scenario is that nobody notices you exist. Normally I’d say something about the armchair-psychological profile of the kind of people who would take a job in which the pinnacle of your hopes involve not having any of your work recognized, ever, but then I read during the 32 years of NFL/ref contract negotiations what these guys make per year for a part-part-part-partily-part-part-part-time job, and now I think I have a MUCH CLEARER UNDERSTANDING of their motivations.
I say this from a sad sliver of experience. One of my best friends in college was an actual referee; he regularly worked intramural games, then various games at local schools, then up to high school and college games, where he currently works, making him waaaaaay overqualified to be a replacement NFL guy.
But it began in college, where he showed up one day announcing that you could get paid for refereeing intramural games, and being college, and being open to the phrase “get paid,” and being an idiot, I thought, well how hard could this be really, with the double-dribble and the fouls and whatnot? I CAN BE A REF. So I signed up, I attended Ref Boot Camp, which was basically two hours of the difference between a charge and a blocking foul, which I still don’t know, and 30 seconds later I was refereeing intramural basketball games, which, nearly two decades later, continues to rank as the Thing I Was Worst At In My Life Ever.
Related, sort of
There are referees who have an automatic eye for things, guys whose eyes can visually target RoboCop-style the things that look wrong: errant feet-shuffles, misplaced hands, whatever. Guys who through training and God knows how many games can see things like they’re looking at the Matrix. I looked as though I’d recently arrived from the planet Flttthbpt asking in broken English, “TELL ME ABOUT THIS BASKET-BALL? I AM WONDER HOW MANY RUNS ARE THE FIELD GOALS TO BE WORTH?”
(At one point I called traveling on a guy attempting a breakaway layup, a call that — and this sound is scorched into my memory — resulted in a groan of disgust from literally everyone on the court so fierce and unified that I think they all became lifelong friends after the game.)
And it’s just the worst feeling, running around with 10 guys who have the benefit of knowing what in the hell is going on — and this was in a dingy, orange-lit and I’m sure highly fungus-infested college gym, not on television being viewed, evaluated, loathed and mocked, even by people who say actual sentences such as, “Hmm, I should replace my cheese hat for the new season.” So thanks for trying, replacement refs. I wish you all the best. And I’ll take a chocolate glazed and a medium coffee.