Brian Stropolo lost his gig as an NFL replacement ref when Facebook pictures of him in Saints gear emerged just before he was supposed to officiate a Saints game.
But the pictures were far from a secret, and were even discovered by Ravens coach John Harbaugh during the preseason.
In a detailed and touching story by Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune which centers on Stropolo’s personal struggle, Stropolo mentioned that Harbaugh brought up the pictures prior to a preseason game.
When he introduced himself to Harbaugh prior to their game against the Jaguars, Stropolo told him he had seen the photos after Googling his name.
“You’re a Saints fan,” Harbaugh said, as relayed by Stropolo.
“I said, ‘I’m from New Orleans but I’m neutral. I’m from the NFL,'” Stropolo said, insisting he’d call the game fairly.
He said Harbaugh replied by saying: “Oh no, I’m just messing with you.”
Stropolo also said he felt like he was hung out to dry by the NFL, after being part of the crew that officiated the opener, and was ranked highest in the preseason by the league.
“When we came off the field [NFL executive vice president for football operations] Ray Anderson was in the end zone high-fiving us with the biggest smile on his face,” Stropolo said. “We walked in the locker room and Roger Goodell was standing there by himself and shook every one of our hands.
“He said, ‘Guys let me tell you something, that was amazing. Y’all looked like the real deal. Y’all set the bar so high I hope the rest of the crews can come up to do what y’all did.’ All of them [NFL officials] were smiling.”
The league’s reaction turned dramatically when the photos were revealed prior to the Saints-Panthers game he was supposed to call, but was removed the day of the game.