Marysville man says his stint in NFL was worth the criticism

MARYSVILLE — On Friday night, Jeff Sadorus will referee the football game between Shorewood and Shorecrest high schools.

On Saturday, he’ll be on the field for the O’Dea-Blanchet game in Seattle.

Two weeks ago, he was in Baltimore, working as an official in a National Football League game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

Sadorus, of Marysville, was one of the replacement officials in the NFL during the labor dispute between the regular officials and the league.

“It was a great experience,” he said.

Sadorus, 48, said he has been refereeing sporting events at many levels since he was a 14-year-old boy growing up in Lake Oswego, Ore. He was a football official in the Pac-10 conference from 2004 through 2010. His father, Hank, refereed in the conference for 25 years.

In addition to his job as a service representative for Kraft beverages, Sadorus regularly works high school baseball, basketball and football games.

The replacement officials were vilified by many players, coaches and fans, who felt they missed a disproportionate number of calls.

“Given the situation we were put in, we did the best we could,” Sadorus said. “If we hadn’t done it, you wouldn’t have had football.”

The call that got the most attention was the last play of the game when the Seattle Seahawks defeated Green Bay, 14-12, on Sept. 24.

In the “Inaccurate Reception,” as it’s been called, Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was ruled to have caught a pass as he wrestled for the ball in the end zone with Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings. Many thought Jennings had a better grip on the ball than Tate, but the play was ruled a touchdown, giving the Seahawks the victory.

That call, and the uproar that followed, was credited for spurring the NFL and the regular referees to settle their differences. They returned to work last weekend.

The incident might also have taken some heat off Sadorus. The night before, in Baltimore, he had his own controversial call.

A game-ending field goal attempt by the Ravens sailed directly over one of the uprights, forcing Sadorus, who was standing underneath, to make a judgment call.

He ruled it good, giving Baltimore a 31-30 victory. New England coach Bill Belichick later complained about the call. The league also fined Belichick $50,000 for grabbing one of the other officials by the arm after the game.

Unlike in high school and college football, a ball going over the upright doesn’t have to be completely inside the post when viewed from below, according to Sadorus — it can “touch” part of the upright, as long as no part of it can be seen on the outer side.

“I haven’t seen anything that showed me I missed that,” he said.

Digesting the NFL rulebook — he still has his copy, about 2 inches thick — was one of his tasks as he prepared for the challenge.

Last spring, Sadorus received a call about the possible referee lockout from a friend and retired Pac-10 official now working as a referee scout for the NFL, he said.

“It’s something I thought about for a long time before I decided to do it,” Sadorus said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We weren’t trying to take anyone’s job.”

Sadorus underwent a thorough application process, including a background check, he said. He visited Dallas in early July for what was essentially a weed-out session, where the candidates took physical tests to make sure they could run. They watched video and made calls.

After a “10-day hold-your-breath period,” Sadorus said, he was one of 128 officials selected.

He was sent to Dallas again for a training session and spent three days refereeing at the San Francisco 49ers’ training camp in Santa Clara, Calif. In the past, he also has worked Seahawks practices, he said.

He worked three preseason games: Indianapolis at Pittsburgh, San Francisco at Denver, and Cincinnati at Indianapolis.

In the regular season, he worked the Seahawks’ opening game in Phoenix versus the Arizona Cardinals, which the Hawks lost 20-16. In the second week he was part of the crew on the Tennessee-San Diego game, and in the third week came the New England-Baltimore game.

Sadorus has an opinion about the call in the Seahawks-Green Bay game.

“I think by rule, they got the play correct,” he said.

Replays did not show that the defender had full possession of the ball with two feet on the ground, he said, and ties on simultaneous catches go to the offensive player.

“I don’t think there was enough (evidence on the replay) to turn it over the other way,” he said.

He said pass interference probably should have been called on Tate, who was seen on replays shoving one of the defenders before the ball arrived. But Sadorus said the NFL Network recently reviewed 79 “Hail Mary” passes similar to the Seahawks’ play, and pass interference was called on only one, despite the jostling that occurs on those plays.

Much was made of the fact that the replacement officials were coming from the high school and small college ranks to a game where the athletes are bigger, stronger and faster — the implication being that the new guys were overwhelmed by the speed of the game.

Sadorus disagrees. The game is faster, he said, but crews were adjusting.

“Were there some misses? Yeah, but we got better every week,” he said. “Were we in over our heads? I don’t think so.”

Overall, the experience was worthwhile, he said. He was paid $3,000 a game and gets to keep his shirt, jacket, cap and rulebook.

“I have a heck of a Halloween costume,” he said.

He was able to take a couple of side trips, one to a Chicago Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field and another to a Navy football game in Annapolis, Md.

His wife, Lauri, and three kids were understanding and supportive during the travel and criticism, Sadorus said. His daughter Megan, 14, said she watched her dad on TV every week.

“Lauri said, ‘We don’t have to watch a reality show, we’re living one,’ ” he said. “It was a whirlwind four months.”

Now, after taking last weekend off, he’s looking forward to working the high school games this weekend.

“It’s football season,” he said. “It’s what I do.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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