Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 2, 2012

AARON SNYDER: First Fridays, and now Sundays

Rocky Stanley
For The Independent

ASHLAND — Brian Taylor called it.

He’s an NFL referee.

Even though many around him argued that he couldn’t do it, he proved his dream was not out of line.

“He’s always said he wanted to be an NFL official,” said longtime official and friend Bill Heaberlin, who helped Taylor break into the profession. “A lot of people just laughed about it. But here he is.”

For the past few weeks, the Russell native stepped inside a different kind of line — the sidelines to a bigger, faster ballgame.

The NFL announced Wednesday that it would use its replacement referees for Week 1 games, which kick off Wednesday, and is prepared to use them “as much ... as necessary.” The league and its on-field officials failed to reach an agreement again on Saturday — they’ve been locked out since June 3.

On Thursday night, Taylor lassoed himself with a whistle and slapped on the black and white stripes 2,500 miles away in Seattle for a Raiders-Seahawks preseason affair.

On Friday — remember, he “lost” three hours traveling through four time zones — he nestled into his normal routine, officiating the Ironton-Russell game near his own backyard.

League policy won’t allow replacement referees to be interviewed at this time, but Heaberlin could hardly contain his excitement for Taylor.

“It’s really something, I think,” Heaberlin said on Friday. “I’m tickled to death for him.”

Taylor called the Bengals’ first preseason game on Aug. 9 in Cincinnati against the Jets and then rushed home to referee the Eastern Kentucky Conference Grid-O-Rama high school scrimmage event.

An area official advancing to the national stage is not an extraordinary sighting.

In fact, we could declare the northeastern Kentucky area the unofficial capital of officials.

The list of former/active major league baseball umpires is lengthy with names like Terry Craft, of South Shore, Charlie Reliford (Ashland), Greg Gibson (Ashland) and Sam Holbrook (Morehead, Lexington).

And those guys didn’t just “break in,” they excelled at the professional baseball level, calling All-Star Games, perfect games and even the World Series.

Most recently, Holbrook was on second base for Seattle’s Felix Hernandez’s perfect game in August.

And another area official, Chris Ward, is perhaps on the brink of the big leagues. He is currently a crew chief in Triple-A.

In Taylor’s case, it’s a little different. But being a replacement referee doesn’t mean he didn’t work for it or earn it.

“He once lost 50-some pounds because he was told he was too big to be an official,” Heaberlin said. “He is driven.”

Not to speak for him, but I’m betting Taylor is probably using that determination to push past heaping amounts of criticism coming from different directions.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was vocal in his distaste for one replacement referee’s alleged misunderstanding of the “defenseless receiver” rule against the Packers over a week ago.

Said Lewis: “It was a misinterpretation of the rule. I know they are working hard. The league is working hard to get this stuff corrected.”

Then there was Associated Press columnist Jim Litke, who wrote this:

Suddenly, after standing by its officials no matter what, the NFL wants you to believe it knows where to round up another hundred or so just as good by making a few phone calls. The league locked out the refs in June right after the current contract expired, then tried to strong arm their union the same way it did the players’ association and TV networks in their negotiations. The NFL is so successful and so accustomed to dictating terms that finding out how far it can push fans, players, TV execs and, now, field officials appears to be an exercise for its own sake.

All Taylor and company can do is keep working. And doing what they love in beautiful NFL stadiums across the country in nationally televised games isn’t such a bad gig.

Taylor’s Week 1 assignment has yet to be released.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.