Replacement ref: NFL officiating a "dream come true"

Jerry Hughes
Jerry Hughes in his former NFL uniform. Hughes was a replacement referee during the ref lockout.

(CBS News) The National Football League's replacement referees have had their five minutes of fame, although critics may say "infamy" is a better word.

In all, there were 135 replacement officials hired by the NFL, all with years of experience at the high school and college level. Referee Jerry Hughes was one of those replacements. He jumped at the chance to live his NFL dream.

Finally, everything is back to normal. The regular referees are on the field, the distractions of replacement refs are gone, and everyone seems happy. Well, almost everyone.

Hughes told CBS News he's "a little sad right now."

Hughes said he would have liked to have just one more week to say goodbye to the crew whom he had gotten very close to during the referee lockout.

But it was close, perhaps, in the way soldiers who share a foxhole are close. Because for the replacement refs, it could seem like everyone was against them.

Asked about those criticisms, Hughes said, "It comes with the territory. It's out of our control. We went out there, we did a good job, the game of football went on."

Hughes made it through his three games relatively unscathed, with no major botched calls. Though he did pronounce St. Louis - "St. Louie" - in one call during a game against Chicago.

Hughes said, "There was an interception, then a fumble back and forth and we had to go to replay. ... I think nothing of it. I'm going home on the plane and I have to watch the tape to watch, I get to that point and I announce 'St. Louie' and the announcers went crazy."

Asked about the increased scrutiny the replacement refs were working under, Hughes said it was probably more than the regular refs. He said, "We were under the microscope from the coin toss to the very ending."

It was a call at the end of a game Hughes wasn't working - Seattle and Green Bay last Monday night - that received the most scrutiny, as two officials seemed to make opposite calls on the decisive final play in the end zone.

Asked about that call and if he considers it blown, Hughes said, "No. It went to replay. They said there was not enough to overturn it. It's the way the game is played."

And Hughes knows a little something about the way the game is played. He's been involved in officiating football for 40 years on all levels, from high school to college, and now the NFL. And while football may be football, the leap to the pros is a huge one. He showed CBS News the difference between the National Collegiate Athletic Association rule book versus the NFL rule book, which is considerably thicker and bigger.

"There's a lot more rules in the NFL," Hughes said.

As he sat and watched football on TV, he couldn't help but wish he was still out there. "It's a dream come true," Hughes said. "When you get into officiating, you always want to keep moving up the ladder, and the NFL is the pinnacle. ... I was there."

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.