Q&A with NFL Referee Walt Anderson
This report filed August 26, 2003
Walt Anderson is entering his eighth season as an NFL official. After officiating for 21 years at the high school and college levels, Anderson, who hails from Sugarland, Texas, spent the last seven seasons as a line judge for the NFL. Four years ago he was asked to train to become an NFL head referee and this season, he will begin his first year donning the white hat. ClevelandBrowns.com sat down with Anderson for a Q&A about his life as an NFL official and his relationship with the players, coaches and fans.
How did you begin officiating and how did you end up in the NFL?
I began officiating about 28 years ago. I played football in college (at Sam Houston State). My father was a football coach and after I graduated, he actually recommended that I may want to get involved in officiating to stay active in the game of football. So I began my career officiating junior high and little leagues, then eventually high schools, then eventually college (with the now-defunct Southwest Conference). It was when I was working college that the NFL, who has a group made up of usually ex-officials who scout officials just like teams scout players, came forward.
Do you ever find it hard to be unbiased when officiating a game involving a team you were a fan of?
At this level and with so many years of training, you get good at refining the art of impartiality. To be honest, we could care less who wins or loses. My job is to make sure that the game is played so that neither team has an unfair advantage and has an equal opportunity to win the game. That’s what my job is and that’s really all I’m interested in.
A lot of NFL officials hold other jobs during the week. Do you and what do you do during the off-season to stay sharp?
For me, officiating in the National Football League is a fulltime job. I had another job (as a dentist) before, but when I got into the NFL and particularly four years ago when they asked me to be consider being a referee and when I started working over in Europe as a referee in the spring, it was obvious that I was going to have to devote fulltime to this. I made the decision to get rid of my other job. I only (work as a dentist) on an occasional part-time basis now, but football officiating for me is something that occurs year-round just like the players and the coaches. During the season, it gets heightened and it becomes a full-time plus job.
Is it easy for you to watch a game as a fan when you’re used to watching it as an official?
No. My family will often ask me to look at a particular play or ask me if I saw a particular play and I always say I was watching the players that I watch when I’m on the field because that’s what you get used to.
What things do you think the common fan might not realize about what it’s like to be an NFL official?
(People don’t get a grasp of) the speed of the game in person when it occurs (compared to) how it’s perceived in terms of TV. People who have never seen an NFL game up close down on the field really don’t have any concept of the speed at which things happen – like when players make those sideline catches and 300-pound defensive linemen get to the quarterback in two seconds. When a player catches a ball, you end up having to make those decisions and those judgments in a split second. Then, back on the field, while we may still be deciding what to rule on a situation, (the fans) are watching it on slow motion and (on) quarter speed, its always easier to make that call. The second thing that I think is a big misperception is that we just show up every Sunday and work for three hours. People don’t realize how much time ends up being put into the game during the week with a lot of rules study and the amount of time we spend on video just like players and coaches.”
Most hostile crowd?
Most memorable play and/or game you’ve officiated?
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