I finally got my warning. I did my job and actually made it through a handful of Friday night games before getting nailed by a sideline sheriff.
From one side it was an ugly exchange. And for the two parties involved it was quick.
“Get behind the line!” he barked.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I responded.
“Get behind the line! We can always have the police escort you out of here,” came his retort.
I bit my tongue and rubbed my chin, buying time while my thoughts raced.
I thought about telling him that he shouldn’t quit his day job. I considered telling him that the closest he should ever ever get to officiating was via his grandson’s X-box.
The guy’s attitude had me seething, and what I wanted to do — simply because of his belligerence — was to offer up a blue-tinged tongue-lashing.
I started instead to point to the overflowing press box and tell him I was just trying to do my job.
I didn’t even throw up my hands in protest or surrender.
I didn’t turn the other cheek, although I went 180 degrees from his presented mindset. I simply said calmly and so softly that only he could hear, “All right, you’ve said enough and you’ve made your point.”
I then awaited his reaction — escalate or let it ride; his choice — before he turned away. I then moved a couple of feet farther from the playing field.
That was the extent of the exchange, although I caught the guy shooting me sideways glares most of the night.
I don’t know whether he played organized football, and I don’t really care. My story is simple. I have covered perhaps a half-million football games from middle and high school levels to the pros and colleges. Granted, I didn’t have to run the sidelines during my days covering the Falcons or the Volunteers, and I’ll admit I’m not as quick as I used to be. However, I have done this for 40 years and have yet to get run over. The one time it was close, I got pushed toward an onrushing ball carrier by a TV camera guy who was a whole lot bigger than me and obviously had a strong interest in self-preservation. He did get a blue-tinged tongue-lashing. But that was in my younger days.
Because I do enjoy a much bigger stage on which to squawk, I decided to play nice, to find something redeeming or praiseworthy about this character.
He is persistent.
We’re talking a caliber of persistence that borders on all-American. He was as persistent as mosquitoes the size of your fingernails that had their way with most everybody on the sidelines that night. This guy spent more time looking over his shoulder at who was where than he did watching the game.
At one point he threw a flag — a sideline warning on the home team — and it just happened to fall when the head coach was the only one beyond this referee’s precious media and team lines and yet well within the coaching box.
That warning flag fell, by the way, on the opponent’s only touchdown of the night, and I still don’t know if this referee saw who scored or how.
He revived my irritation with the TSSAA and the national federation and the way each rushed to cover its backside with this sideline rule. It was an ill-conceived notion to preclude potential lawsuits. And I obviously don’t care for the way some officials have interpreted the rule. A rare few never heard about the spirit of such things.
In this specific case, nobody along the sidelines was on the field. Nobody was within a foot of the sideline. Everybody was concentrating on the action — and certainly aware they might have to duck or run — with the exception of this potential whiplash victim.
But enough. I’m still scratching the bites and just now figuring out that we should have tried turning Mr. Persistent loose on the skeeters. Or visa versa.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...