Brian Taylor, of Russell, was one of 160 men called to serve as a replacement
official during the preseason and first three weeks of this NFL season.
While that number dwindled to 112 by Week 4 of the preseason, Taylor stayed on course. He and his crew were some of the highest-rated of the whole bunch.
As his normal season — the high school season — winds down, the 41-year-old Taylor can’t help but dream big after getting a glimpse of the grand stage.
“From what I understand, 20 of us are going to be hired for next season,” said Taylor, referring to word related from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “It’s a really long shot, but it’s a shot.”
A 14th-year official, Taylor had worked at most levels all the way up through small college. Most of his officiating took place on the high school football field.
Back in June, though, he couldn’t resist a luring opportunity.
“I heard about it, sent an email with my officiating resume, and didn’t think anything else about it,” Taylor said.
That simple click of the mouse led to a follow-up application, and then a visit to his house from NFL security, and then big-city conferences in which Taylor and others went through rule quizzes and physical assessments.
Taylor was in.
Unfortunately, because he took the NFL job, Taylor was out of calling Division II football. His college supervisor fired him. Taylor was just in his second season of that.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Taylor justified the decision.
His first NFL preseason game just so happened to be close to home. It was Thursday, Aug. 10, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Bengals, Jets. Eleven family members and friends were among the 60,000-plus in attendance for the game, but their focus was on one particular man in stripes.
Back home, there were mixed reactions to Taylor’s new gig.
“It was kind of wild, some were in disbelief, some said it was awesome,” Taylor said. “My (high school) crew went with me to Cincinnati.”
While the differences are aplenty, the most obvious contrast between high school and NFL to Taylor was the speed of the game.
And, of course, the size of the players.
“In the NFL, you have a defensive tackle that’s 6-8, 300 who runs as fast as a wide receiver in high school,” Taylor said. “I was thinking to myself, the worst player on this field is probably the best player I’ve ever seen play.”
Taylor, at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, felt dwarfed.
“I don’t look like a munchkin to anybody, but when I was out there, I was looking up,” he said.
The Jets-Bengals game is somewhat of a blur to Taylor now, being his first.
“That game was just a whirlwind,” Taylor remembered.
That word could sum up the entire experience.
While Taylor uses much more positive terms to characterize his time as a replacement official, hectic and chaotic are two suitable descriptions as well.
Take one particular preseason week for example. During a six-day span, Taylor traveled from Huntington to Boston, from Boston to Dallas, from Dallas to Huntington and from Huntington to Miami. He officiated two games — Patriots-Eagles on Monday Night Football and Falcons-Dolphins four days later. He also worked one full day at King's Daughters Medical Center, where he manages computer
Try this one on for size, too: "One week, I had a local time 7 o'clock game in Seattle (on a Thursday), and I flew back here for a 7:30 (p.m.) game between Ironton and Russell (on that Friday). And we lost three hours coming back."
Taylor served as an umpire in a crew that mainly consisted of Chicago-based individuals.
Few coaches gave them problems.
"In the preseason, (New England Patriots coach Bill) Belichick was pretty rough on us," Taylor said. "But in the regular season, he was fine."
"This is not a JFL game where if you lose, you end up going out to eat with the winning team after," Taylor said.
Some coaches were complimentary.
"(New York Jets coach) Rex Ryan told us, when we had Jets-Steelers (during the regular season), 'We're glad to have you all here. I know you're not going to be intimidated by these fans,'" Taylor said.
Taylor and company called some of the best games of each weekend because they received such high ratings by supervisors. They each presented a unique feel.
"The Steelers and Jets in Pittsburgh was very loud," he said. "You really can't even hear yourself think."
During Week 1's Patriots-Titans contest, Taylor witnessed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady eclipsing 40,000 career passing yards.
Around 75,000 fans rocked Mile High Stadium for the Texans-Broncos game in Week 3. He was also able to stand on the same field as elite quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Patriots-Titans game supplied Taylor with his most painful memory.
"(Patriots tight end Rob) Gronkowski put me on my rear end," he said with a faint chuckle. "His job was to take out the safety, he's focused on that one person. As I'm shuffling, I'm not seeing him coming, and he just waylaid me. He did not miss a stride.
"He did check on me," Taylor added. "That one hurt for about two weeks."
Taylor was thankful that he and his crew performed so well — "Whenever you saw the officials on ESPN's 'Not Top Ten' it was never me and it was never my crew," he said — but by the end of the experience, he was angry about the constant criticism of the replacement refs.
Taylor wasn't seeing red until a couple days after the infamous Monday Night Football "catch" call that allowed the Seahawks to beat the Packers in Seattle.
"The only day that was tough on me was the Wednesday before they came to the agreement," Taylor recalled. "No matter what I turned on the TV, it was about the replacement officials. It was like all 112 of us are idiots, that none of us have a clue."
Taylor didn't say whether or not he agreed with the call, but he said when he saw the highlight the next morning, "I knew it was over."
Overall, support showered over Taylor during the seven weeks of performing his dream job.
"Everybody wanted to know where I was going to be, they were asking questions," Taylor said. "It was pretty cool."
His 9-year-old son, Landon, accompanied him for three games. His wife was also very supportive, Taylor said.
The paycheck wasn't bad, either. Taylor made $2,000 a game at first, but once the cut was made to 112 officials, his salary was bumped to $3,000 a game.
"It's slightly more than the $35 I get paid to work a freshman game," Taylor joked.
By the end of what he called "a fantastic experience," in which he had the rare privilege of interacting with NFL stars and coaches, one particular interaction stands out above the rest.
"During all of this, I was at a first- and second-grade game," Taylor said. "A first-grader looked up at me, and said 'Hey, you're pretty good at referee.'"
Taylor hopes the NFL thinks the same.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at