Zebra Hunt: Terry McAulay

Remember the Keyshawn Johnson non-touchdown that defined the Cowboys' trumping of the Seahawks with a late comeback in 2004? Terry McAulay does - he was the referee on the field when it happened. He'll be the head zebra on Sunday, when the Seahawks take on the Bears at Soldier Field. The replay official who didn't review that catch will be in the booth. Can someone get the guy a hot dog this time?

Photo Caption: Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren holds a discussion with field judge Lee Dyer (27) and referee Terry McAulay, left, during first half action of their NFL game against the New England Patriots Sunday afternoon Oct. 17, 2004 in Foxboro, Mass. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 30-20. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

“He must have been out getting a hot dog” – Mike Holmgren, when asked why replay official Bobby Skelton didn’t review Keyshawn Johnson’s 34-yard touchdown catch when the Seahawks were playing the Cowboys in October of 2004. Johnson didn’t get both feet in bounds, the league later admitted. The play wasn’t challengeable because there was 1:45 left in the game, and coaches can’t challenge in the final two minutes of each half. Skelton didn’t even look at the play. The Cowboys won the game, 43-39, as the Seahawks collapsed late in the game, as was their wont at the time.

He’s baaaaaaaack…

Yes, Skelton will be in the booth again when the Seahawks travel to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears. Perhaps the “Ditka Faithful” can manage to get a few brats to Skelton before (and during) the game, so as to ease his hunger pains and increase his ability to … well, do his job?

Perhaps not.

In any case, the referee overseeing Skelton and the rest of his crew in the Seahawks-Bears game (as he did in that fateful Dallas contest) will be Terry McAulay. McAulay started his career in the NFL as a side judge in 1998, and quickly moved up the ranks. He became a referee in 2001, and has presided over one Super Bowl (XXXIX in 2005, when the New England Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21 – current Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch was named the game’s MVP) and several playoff games. McAulay’s most controversial game came in his rookie year as a referee.

On December 16, 2001, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns were facing off in Cleveland, and the immortal Dawg Pound went nuts when McAulay overruled a Quincy Morgan catch after the next play had gone off, saying that he was buzzed by the replay booth before Tim Couch took the snap. The Dawg faithful revolted, throwing plastic bottles and other debris all over the field. McAulay declared the game over with 48 seconds left to play, and the players left the field. The decision was quickly overruled by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and the Jags ran out the clock with one eye on the stands.

"We feared for our lives," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. "It was like dodging bullets."

In 2005, McAulay and his crew called the third-most penalties and the second-most penalty yards in the league, according to data collected by Football Outsiders. In his 15 games, 279 penalties were called for a total of 2,076 yards. Only Larry Nemmers and his crew were more “flag-happy” from a yardage standpoint last season, an fact we will review later in this article.

The last time McAulay officiated a Seahawks game, it was in week seven of the 2005 season, as the Seahawks took on the ... Dallas Cowboys (Irony, thy name is McAulay). In this game, however, there were no controversial calls, and the Seahawks exacted a measure of revenge in a tight 13-10 win. In that game, the flags were very equitable – the Seahawks were penalized 9 times for 83 yards, and the Cowboys 9 for 81.

In 2006, McAulay has done three games: Buffalo at New England, Pittsburgh at Jacksonville and Philadelphia at San Francisco. In the first game, the Patriots were flagged once for five yards, and the Bills 8 for 53. Game two saw a reversal of fortune for the home team, as the Jaguars were outpenalized 11 to 3, and 86 yards to 25. The Eagles-Niners contest was far more balanced, with San Francisco’s 9 for 64 and Philly’s 10 for 72.

The full breakdown of McAulay’s 2006 penalties through three games (42 for 305 yards, and four declined):

Illegal Substitution


Chop Block


Defensive Offside


Defensive Pass Interference




Illegal Formation


Illegal Motion


Illegal Touch (punt return)


Ineligible Downfield Pass


12 Men on Field


Illegal Use of Hands


Roughing the Passer


Delay of Game


Offensive Holding


Unnecessary Roughness


Illegal Block Above the Waist


False Start


Seattle's banged-up offensive line had best watch their hands with this group.

McCaulay’s 2006 Crew: Referee: Terry McAulay (77); Line Judge: Mark Steinkerchner (84); Field Judge: Greg Gautreaux (80); Umpire: Bruce Stritesky (102); Side Judge: Michael Banks (72); Replay Official: Bobby Skelton; Head Linesman: Kent Payne (79); Back Judge: Steve Freeman (133); Video Operator: Lou Ruchser.

The Eagle Eye Award!

The introductory “Eagle Eye Award” goes to Larry Nemmers’ crew, for his fine, fine work in the week two battle between the Seahawks and Cardinals. In the last week, the NFL has handed down fines to Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and cornerback Antrell Rolle for flagrant horse-collar tackles on Seattle running back Shaun Alexander – Dockett was dinged $7,500, and Rolle has found his wallet $5,000 lighter. In the last few weeks, Alexander has seen the bone bruise in the fourth metatarsal bone of his left foot morph into a fracture, resulting in several weeks on the bench. The horse-collar rule was implemented in 2005, and refined in 2006, to protect the players. But Nemmers, who called more penalties than any official in the league in 2005, did not throw a flag on either tackle. Nor did anyone on his crew.

Fortunately, Alexander didn’t break his leg like Terrell Owens did in 2004, when Dallas safety Roy Williams brought him down by the neck of the jersey and forced what we know as the “Roy Williams Rule”. If the league can’t implement a foul in a cohesive fashion, and officials stand idly by while players are dragged down to the potential early ends of their careers, what’s the point of having Mike Pereira, the Competition Committee, and all those zebras in the first place? Should the game be played as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with nothing but a round ball, a primitive ground game and a license to kill, or can we actually be smart about this stuff?

Given the history of rules changes and how they’re generally legislated, we should be grateful more players haven’t been hurt, and more fines without flags handed down.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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