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Hot Seat With an NFL Ref

Ridgefield resident Tony Veteri gives us the inside scoop




​As this NFL season kicks off, Tony Veteri will be starting his 13th season officiating professional football games as a linesman. Veteri, 56, was athletic director at Mount Vernon High School, where he spent 32 years, and has recently taken on a teaching job at Veterans Park Elementary School. We spoke with him about wearing the black-and-white stripes.

Have you ever blown a call?

Sure, but nothing major. I’ve been lucky.

Do you get in trouble for bad calls?

Well, we’re graded. A supervisor will look at our game all day. An incorrect call—or phantom call—is the worst. You get a 2 for that. If there’s an action where they felt you should have called it, that’s a 3. Letting them play is better than calling a nonexistent foul. A correct minor call is a 5; a correct major call is a 6. At season’s end, the supervisors line up all 17 head linesmen, the 17 referees, the 17 umpires, etc., from most points to lowest, and that determines who works the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

Do you make it up to someone when you blow a call?

No, because that would give me two incorrect calls. We’re trying to make the Super Bowl, just like the teams are.

Have you ever worked a Super Bowl?

Yes, 10 playoff games and Super Bowl thirty-five. It’s very exciting to work a Super Bowl. It’s everyone’s goal. My dad, who officiated for years, did four, so if I can work two I will have been half as good as him.

Does the crowd heckling get to you?

Not at all. It’s better than when I worked high-school stuff—in the NFL there’s better crowd control and no parents on the sidelines.

What do you carry with you on the field?

A down counter: An elastic on my right wrist that loops around my fingers. Loop around one finger for first down, two for second, and so on. I have a lanyard whistle around my neck. I keep that one in my mouth before the ball is snapped. I want to be able to kill a play instantaneously—false start or encroachment. After the snap, I’ll spit that whistle out and use my finger whistle. I use an old shoelace and wrap it around my wrist, and when I swing my hand up, the whistle goes right into my hand.

Then there’s a beanbag for marking loose balls and interceptions. It’s blue. I tuck that into my belt. I keep my flag in my back right pocket. Some guys put it in their front pocket. We used to use our hats as a backup flag, but they didn’t like that. Now they ask us to carry a second flag.

Do you train?

Yes. For our age group—our average age is 51—we are in the top one percent in terms of physical fitness. On average, we runabout six miles a game. We have a three day clinic in the summer—in Dallas thisyear—testing our fitness, body fat, height,weight. We do some agility, some sprints.

Do you have a favorite place to play?

I’ve done a game in Tampa when it was 114 degrees, and in Green Bay when it was 25 below. Green Bay is a neat, old-fashioned stadium. The fans cheer for you when you’re going in and going out. Oakland fora night game is neat—with all the different costumes. The loudest is Kansas City.

Do you have a favorite team?

The Zebras.

Can you endorse products?

No. We sign that right away.

Do you like replay, reviewing calls?

Yes, it’s like having a net when doing a high-wire act. It can be a good tool.

Why do you live in Ridgefield?

Ten years ago we were looking for a place to raise our kids, and we found it.

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