One of the NFL’s replacement officials isn’t just adjusting to calling games involving bigger, stronger and faster players. He’s also adjusting to a game with 22 players on the field, instead of 12.
Wayne Bernier has spent the last four weeks alternating between refereeing six-man football games at small Texas high schools and then working preseason games in the NFL. Bernier told the Amarillo Globe-News that it’s not as big a difference as you might think.
“You have seen it on TV and see this big field,” Bernier said. “But you walk in and it’s still a 100-yard field just like out at Dick Bivins Stadium [where Amarillo high school teams play]. There are more people. That’s all.”
Bernier has been training with the NFL since June and said that while he was taken aback by the athletes at first, he’s ready for it now.
“Humbling is what I’d first say I experienced because you are in awe, but you are there to do a job,” Bernier said. “You don’t get star struck. I had a lot to learn. I had to get acclimated to the speed. That’s the difference between any level and the NFL, the speed and size. But one thing is easier. They are so skilled and know how to catch a football. Now, the harder part is they have the chance to learn more technique, and they know how to hold better.”
Despite the widespread criticism that the NFL’s replacement officials have received, Bernier says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“You learn they all are human beings,” Bernier said. “They are in this spotlight all the time, but they are just human. And they are class acts, like Andy Reid. We all know he just lost his son, and there is emotion there. And then most of the players have been cordial. You hear every once in a while a ‘Oh, that’s why you are here’ comment. But most of them slap you on the butt and say, ‘Good job.’”
Most fans have wanted to kick the replacement officials in the butt and say, “Bad job” so far this preseason, but whether the fans like it or not, the NFL is about to start its season with refs whose experience comes from levels much, much lower than professional football.