Zebra Hunt: Ron Winter

Are you ready for some flag football? If you're a Seahawks or Chargers fan you'd best be prepared – the crew led by Ron Winter, the 2006 Penalty Champion through Week Fifteen, will call Sunday's game at Qwest Field.

Last season, that award went to Larry Nemmers, who led the NFL with 309 penalties for 2,116 total yards, according to data kept by Football Outsiders. Winter placed fourth in overall penalties called in 2005, throwing 278 flags for 1,922 yards (Ed Hochuli and Terry McAulay were second and third, respectively). This season, Winter has 217 penalties for a total of 1,566 yards.

Overall penalties per week are down from last season – the 206.27 calls per week in 2006 are only 80% of 2005’s 258.29. Winter averaged 18.5 penalties per game last season, and 15.5 this year. That's 83% of his 2005 total.

Winter began his NFL officiating career as a line judge in 1995, and made the jump to referee in 1998. In his off-time from the NFL, he is a professor at Western Michigan University.

His most famous officiating mistake came in his first playoff game as a head official – in the wild-card game between the Giants and 49ers on January 5, 2003, back judge Scott Green, who is now a head official himself, was out of position and was not aware that Giants guard Rich Seubert had lined up as an eligible receiver on a field goal attempt that went awry.

Seubert, as an eligible receiver, was interfered with by a San Francisco defender (former Seahawks DE Chike Okeafor) when he attempted to catch a pass on the play, but Green penalized the Giants for having an ineligible man downfield. The game ended on that play, and the 49ers won, 39-38.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s subsequent (and uncharacteristically histrionic) reaction to the gaffe, in which he mandated that the mechanics of field goal calls would be changed forever), makes one wonder if such a response would have been forthcoming had the New York flagship team won the game. Though the mistake was Green’s, it is Winter’s responsibility as head official to know what’s going on, and to be able to overrule a crew member who doesn’t understand the difference between eligible and ineligible.

Unquestionably, the best line about this game was turned in by SI’s Peter King, who wrote that “Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officiating, was so distraught over the missed pass interference call at the end of the Giants-49ers Jan. 5 playoff game that several evenings later he was still sipping chamomile tea to help him sleep.”

We can only hope that Mr. King was trying to inject some humor there.

Winter’s other famous faux pas occurred on October 30, 2005, in a Patriots-Bills game. Winter called one penalty on New England as follows: “Delay of game, defense. Performing an unnatural act not common to the game in an attempt to get the offense to false-start.” Uhhh…yeah. And that means WHAT?

The “unnatural act” line was played up for a while, but this didn’t approach the infamy of Ben Drieth’s 1986 call: “Number 93 of the defense, after tackling the quarterback, was giving him the business down there,” after New York Jets defensive tackle Marty Lyons sacked Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly and punched him repeatedly in the head.

Then again, Drieth’s call was hard to top.

In 2006, Winter has called the most false start penalties in the NFL, and the most defensive offside infractions. The Seahawks have been flagged for 24 false starts this season, eleven behind the St. Louis Rams, the NFL’s leader. The Chargers' improved offensive line has been caught only 13 times.

Seattle has only seven defensive offside penalties, among the lowest in the NFL, but this may represent a propensity for “flinchy” behavior on the offensive side, and a relative inability to get off the snap at the line. Then again, the aggressive Chargers defense has only eight.

Winter’s 14 defensive pass interference calls is tied for second-highest in the league (tied with Gene Steratore, and one behind Scott Green), but Seattle has only been flagged four times for DPI this year. The Chargers have doubled that total. .

Here’s the full penalty-by-penalty breakdown of Winter’s 2006 season:

Infraction

Number

Yards

False Start

51

253

Offensive Holding

25

200

Defensive Offside

22

92

Defensive Pass Interference

14

195

Defensive Holding

14

47

Face Mask (15 Yards)

10

104

Illegal Block Above the Waist

9

85

Illegal Use of Hands

9

45

Illegal Contact

8

15

Roughing the Passer

7

95

Personal Foul

6

85

Unnecessary Roughness

4

60

Illegal Formation

4

10

Offensive Pass Interference

4

39

Delay of Game

3

15

Running Into the Kicker

3

15

Fair Catch Interference

3

45

Encroachment

2

10

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

2

30

Face Mask (5 Yards)

2

10

Neutral Zone Infraction

2

6

Illegal Shift

2

5

Tripping

2

20

Chop Block

2

30

Intentional Grounding

1

10

Defensive 12 On-field

1

 

Taunting

1

15

Illegal Touch Pass

1

5

Offside on Free Kick

1

5

Interference with Opportunity to Catch

1

15

Illegal Procedure

1

5

 
TOTAL
217
1,566

Here is Winter's 2006 week-by-week breakdown:

Week
Number
Yards
1
8
46
2
5
26
3
12
76
4
30
182
5
19
119
7
17
105
8
13
87
9
17
149
10
15
135
11
15
100
12
20
155
13
23
233
14
12
78
15
11
75
TOTAL
217
1,566

Winter's 2006 crew is as follows:

Line Judge - Tom Stephan;
Field Judge -Bill Lovett;
Umpire -Bruce Stritesky;
Side Judge -John Parry;
Replay Official - Ken Baker;
Head Linesman - Tom Stabile;
Back Judge -Jim Howey;
Video Operator - Jim Grant.


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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