AMARILLO, Texas — Before he officiated two high school games in West Texas last weekend, Amarillo businessman Wayne Bernier worked an NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets.
Bernier is a replacement official who was hired by the league while the NFL’s regular officials are locked out.
One of a handful of West Texans who got called up, Bernier said he doesn’t see a major difference between the high school football games he typically watches and the pro games, except for the number of fans in the stands, the Amarillo Globe-News reported Monday ( http://bit.ly/NHFMZe ).
“You have seen it on TV and see this big field,” Bernier told the paper. “But you walk in and it’s still a 100-yard field just like out at Dick Bivins Stadium (in Amarillo). There are more people. That’s all.”
The NFL and its regular referees are mired in a contract standoff, and the league is set to open the new season Wednesday night using replacement officials brought in from several levels of college and other professional leagues.
The replacement officials worked the NFL’s preseason games, to mixed reviews. The heavily scrutinized replacements have been criticized for a litany of mistakes, including misstating which down it is, spotting the ball incorrectly and botching calls. Their mistakes have been highlighted by fans and players who want the regular officials back.
Bernier, 42, has been an official for 19 years, beginning when he was a student at Texas Tech. He said he was aware of some of the criticism that has been aimed at the replacements, and that he gets feedback from the league on every play, as well as a grade.
“The replacements are working their tails off,” Bernier said. “They know the game. And I didn’t cross a line. I understand what a scab is. But I wasn’t a regular who crossed a line to keep going.”
Bernier said he was first contacted by the NFL in June, starting an application process that took almost two months. He had to pass a background check and physical tests. He also studied game film. Eventually, he was sent to training sessions at the San Francisco 49ers’ training camp.
“Humbling is what I’d first say I experienced because you are in awe, but you are there to do a job,” Bernier told the newspaper. “You don’t get star struck. I had a lot to learn.”
He works as a head linesman, watching the line of scrimmage with the “chain gang,” which measures the distance to a first down. His first assignment was at the Georgia Dome for a preseason game between the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.
He’s worked a Pittsburgh Steelers game that included defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, an Amarillo native. When Bernier told Hood his high school coach said hi, “he turned and looked at me,” Bernier said.
“He remembered me and said, ‘Welcome to the NFL,’ ” Bernier said.