"It was the greatest reality show of all-time," said Jeff Sadorus, who lives in Marysville, of being an NFL replacement referee.
Long ago, when Jeff Sadorus started making his way in the competitive world of officiating, he used to station himself under the goal posts while kickers warmed up.
Sadorus would look up as balls sailed over his head and practice making calls as to whether the kick would count in a game.
Years later, in an experience he described as once in a lifetime, Sadorus found himself standing below the right post at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium as a replacement official in Week 3. The Ravens played the Patriots that Sunday night, and kicker Justin Tucker had a chance to win the game for Baltimore with a 27-yard field goal as time expired.
Tucker struck the ball, which sailed from left to right, going over Sadorus’ head. He looked up, stepped forward and raised both arms. Vince Wilfork, the Patriots’ 325-pound defensive tackle, took off his helmet, arms flailing, and rushed toward Sadorus.
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Sadorus took three steps as Wilfork continued yelling and sprinted off the field, out of sight, for the last time in his short-lived NFL officiating career.
“It was the greatest reality show of all time,” said Sadorus, who lives in Marysville, “and I lived it.”
On Friday afternoon, though, Sadorus found himself back in the Seattle area playing the role of, as he said, Mr. Mom. He officiated the Shorewood-Shorecrest game that night and had O’Dea-Blanchet on Saturday.
“You go from working NFL football back to the real world, man,” Sadorus said. “Your son’s social life is more important.”
After the controversial kick in Baltimore, which led to Patriots coach Bill Belichick grabbing one of Sadorus’ crew members as they ran off the field, Sadorus showered and changed out of his stripes. He didn’t watch the replay right away.
The crew’s supervisor made his way from the press box to the officials’ locker room.
“Was the kick good?” Sadorus asked.
When told that it was — Sadorus said the NFL rule states the ball can go over the goal post but it must cross inside the outer edge of the post — Sadorus and his crew headed to their hotel. They popped in the DVD the league burns all officials and, for the first time, Sadorus watched the kick.
He didn’t include the call in the postgame report he wrote that night.
“In my heart,” Sadorus said, “I knew I got it right.”
That didn’t stop pundits and fans from debating the kick during the following week. The game had also been littered with controversial calls, adding another layer to the growing cry for the NFL to end the lockout with the full-time officials.
When a local scout approached Sadorus about possibly becoming a replacement official in May, Sadorus thought long and hard about the decision. He had friends who worked NFL games, and he understood their position.
But he eventually decided that he couldn’t pass up the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“Whether we’re still friends now or not,” he said, “time will tell.”
Sadorus spent seven years working Pac-10 games, but in 2010 the conference decided not to renew his contract. He sent in his application to the NFL in May, conducted an interview with NFL security and traveled to Dallas three times in less than two months for training.
In all, Sadorus worked three exhibition games and three regular-season games, including the Seahawks-Cardinals game. That drew attention Sadorus’ way after a report surfaced that he sometimes officiated Seahawks practices.
He’s also been one of the most outspoken replacement officials since the league ended the lockout on Sept. 26. In a New York Times article, Sadorus, who attended Catholic school, gained Internet notoriety for saying, “Everyone wanted perfection, but come on: the last guy who was perfect they nailed to a cross. And he wasn’t even an official.”
Sadorus’ 17-year-old son, Kyle, said the only strange part was seeing his dad in a new position: In college Sadorus was a back judge, and in the NFL he was a field judge.
“People are saying you’re enjoying your 15 minutes of fame,” Sadorus said before heading to Shoreline Stadium. “But I’m just trying to give some perspective to a side that people might not know.”
Sadorus knew the dream wouldn’t last for long. In fact, he’s surprised it lasted as long as it did. He made $3,000 per game. He got to attend a Navy football game and a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, where a friend was umpiring.
He, like everyone else, learned of the lockout’s end late on Wednesday night, and the next morning the league sent out an email thanking the replacement officials for their service.
Sadorus still has his recently washed NFL stripes. He’s thinking about getting them framed for display in his house. He also has the DVDs of all his games, which he’ll show his grandkids some day.
They are a reminder of when he fulfilled a dream, when the NFL became as much about the officiating as the play on the field and when Sadorus found himself in the middle of it all.
“Some day the grandkids may ask what this disk thing is,” Sadorus said. “Are we going to go down in infamy or be notorious as replacement refs? I don’t know. I don’t worry too much about that. Things can return back to normal pretty quickly.”
And not long after, he got in his car, drove to Shoreline Stadium and officiated another game.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org