Zebra Hunt: Ed Hochuli

Perhaps the most famous of all NFL referees due to his bodybuilder's physique, legal career, stellar on-field reputation, and lengthy penalty explanations (only Mike Carey rivals him in the latter category – perhaps he thinks he's making closing arguments on the field?), Ed Hochuli will be the Zebra in charge when the Seahawks take the field in St. Louis this Sunday.

Actually, Bill Leavy might be more (in)famous after Super Bowl XL…but Hochuli generally uses his powers for good.

An NFL official since 1990. Hochuli started out as a back judge after several years officiating in the Big Sky and Pac-10 conferences. Promoted to the position of referee in 1992, he has called two Super Bowls - XXXII, when the Denver Broncos beat Mike Holmgren’s Packers, 31-24, and XXXVIII, when the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers, 32-29, on a late Adam Vinatieri field goal.

In 2005, Hochuli and his crew called the second-most penalties in the NFL (286) for the third-most yards (1,957), according to data collected by Football Outsiders. Hochuli last crossed paths with the Seahawks in the regular season on December 11, 2005, when the San Francisco 49ers came to Qwest Field and got thumped, 41-3 Nonetheless. Big Ed and his crew did not have their best day, as evidenced by Seahawks.NET’s game review:

1. With 8:05 left in the second quarter, Matt Hasselbeck took the snap at the San Francisco 28-yard line on 3rd and 13. (current Seahawks) LB Julian Peterson took off a little early on a blitz from the left edge, and he was obviously offsides – he was practically on the Seahawks’ side of the ball pre-snap. Nonetheless, no call was made as Peterson sacked Hasselbeck at the 34. Josh Brown kicked a 52-yard field goal on the next play.

2. 6:35 left in the second quarter, and 49ers QB Alex Smith took the ball in shotgun formation from the San Francisco 37. Smith threw a comeback to Brandon Lloyd, who was covered tightly by Marcus Trufant. Trufant got a push and engaged Lloyd within the legal five-yard area, but it was Lloyd who very obviously pushed Trufant away as he turned around to get a read on the ball. Lloyd then fell forward on his own steam, and head linesman Mark Hittner called an illegal contact penalty on Trufant from the back side of the play. Keep in mind here that no penalty was called on Lloyd, despite the fact that his contact was outside the five-yard area.

3. 5:08 left in the second quarter. San Francisco faced 2nd and 18 from their own 37. Smith took the snap and got pressure from Bryce Fisher. In a hurry to get rid of the ball, he tried a quick throw, but lost possession of the ball before his hand went forward. Lofa Tatupu picked up the ball, and had nothing but blue sky and an easy six in front of him. The officials blew the ball dead, with no evidence whatsoever that Smith was protected by the Tuck Rule – probably because he wasn’t.

4. This was the real goober. With 14 seconds remaining in the first half, Seattle had the ball at the San Francisco 32-yard line. Matt Hasselbeck threw an Alley-Oop to Joe Jurevicius in the right corner of the end zone. Jurevicius jumped up, made the grab and came down in the back right corner with possession, and both feet clearly in bounds. Side judge Paul Szelc immediately ruled that Jurevicius was out of bounds (which he wasn’t)…and then, Jurevicius was called for pass interference. In reviewing the play, two things are obvious. First, Jurevicius put his hand on the left shoulder pad of cornerback Bruce Thornton for a split second, but in no way impeded his ability to cover. Second, both Jurevicius and Thornton were looking up at the ball when the contact was made.

Here’s the real question on this play: Why didn’t the booth review it? Assuming that the offsetting penalties are the deciding factor there doesn’t do much for me, considering the fact that the penalty on Jurevicius was bunk. Mike Holmgren was doing quite a bit of barking at the officials at the half, and he had every right to do so.

Pretty sloppy coming from you, Ed…

Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has words with referee Ed Hochuli during the NFC championship football game against the Carolina Panthers in Seattle, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Given the game's outcome, perhaps Hochuli's bunch were just trying to implement a subtle “mercy rule”?

Hochuli was also in charge of the 2005 NFC Championship game, a pretty cleanly-officiated game with two notable exceptions. Again, from the Seahawks.NET game review:

The subsequent Seattle drive (in the first quarter) ended with a play I can’t wait to see Mike Pereira try to explain Wednesday on the NFL Network (Note: He didn’t). Matt Hasselbeck couldn't find anyone open at the CAR 11, ran right, got tackled OB by DT Brenston Buckner. Buckner had both hands on Hasselbeck’s facemask, and no flag was thrown. That “Let them play” crap had better work both ways, Mr. Hochuli…

At 11:15 (of the second quarter), ( Carolina receiver Steve) Smith snapped on the sideline – saying, “Get me in there for the punt return!” They do at 9:21 when Smth returns a Tom Rouen 42-yard punt 59 yards for a touchdown. On the play, LB Vinny Ciurciu appeared to push DE Joe Tafoya in the back, and a flag was thrown, but the flag was picked up. This from the same crew who called the questionable illegal block penalty on Seattle’s Etric Pruitt in the first quarter? Let the theories commence.

Those goobers aside, the Seahawks won the game going away, 34-14, and experienced an entirely new combination of officiating and proctology two weeks later. But I digress…

Here is Hochuli’s penalty breakdown through the first five games of the 2006 season – again, the data is from Football Outsiders:

Offensive Holding


False Start


Unnecessary Roughness


Defensive Holding


Illegal Formation


Defensive Offside


Defensive Pass Interference


Face Mask (15 Yards)


Illegal Block Above the Waist


Illegal Use of Hands


Roughing the Passer


Defensive 12 On-field


Delay of Game




Unsportsmanlike Conduct


Illegal Contact


Illegal Motion


Illegal Shift


Ineligible Downfield Kick


Intentional Grounding


Interference with Opportunity to Catch


Neutral Zone Infraction


Offensive Pass Interference


Hochuli’s 2006 crew consists of Line Judge Tom Symonette, Field Judge Tom Sifferman, Umpire Chad Brown, Side Judge Don Carlsen, Head Linesman Mark Hittner, Back Judge Scott Helverson, Replay Official Howard Slavin and Video Operator Fred Gallagher.

You may remember Hittner as the head linesman in Super Bowl XL – he’s the guy who called the alleged Ben Roethlisberger touchdown toward the end of the first half, and forgot the difference between one arm and two. "That was probably the closest goal-line call I've ever had. Jeez, that was close,” Hittner later said about the play. “My mechanics were not the best on that. I thought 'touchdown' in my head, and then I went up with one arm, which means the play is over, but I should have went with two arms. I was thinking one thing and did another. I've seen a lot of video on it, and he’s in the end zone. It's not by a whole lot, but he's in there."

Uh…okay. Anyway, back to Big Ed.

A partner in the Arizona law firm of Jones, Skelton and Hochuli since 1983, the 55-year old Hochuli earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Arizona in 1976, and was admitted to the Arzona Bar the same year. Hochuli specializes in civil law. He is admitted to practice in Arizona state and federal courts, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

If you want to be buff like Ed, his nutrition and workout regimens are detailed in this January, 2006 CNN/SI article by Amanda Cherrin. You can also listen to Steve Goldstein's 2004 NPR interview with Hochuli, in which he discusses his double life as a referee and lawyer, by clicking here.

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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