Ravens officials

From left, Joe Cook, Bob Wobbeking and Mike Schumann are sideline officials for the Ravens chain crew. Although they won't be working at Super Bowl XLVII, they will root for the Ravens while watching the game on TV and keeping an eye on fellow officials. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / January 30, 2013)

While watching a Baltimore Ravens game at a restaurant, Sheila Walsh pointed to her dad on the sidelines at the same time the camera panned on Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

If that confused some of the other patrons in the restaurant, the incident only serves to amuse Walsh and her dad, Joe Cook, an official who was standing behind Harbaugh holding the first down marker.

Walsh and Cook enjoy a hearty laugh every time they tell that story.

Unfortunately for Cook, 74, and another pair of local residents, Bob Wobbeking, 64, and Mike Schumann, 60, who have been members of the chain crew since the team moved to Charm City for the 1996 season, they won't be working on the sideline Feb. 3 when the Ravens meet the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.


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However, they will be cheering for the Ravens while keeping a keen eye on how fellow officials handle the century-old tradition of marking the spot of the ball, keeping track of the down and determining the distance for a new set of downs.

The job entails carrying two 6-foot poles connected by a 10-yard chain along the sideline. The chain gang lines up the rear pole even with the front tip of where the ball is marked along the sideline by an on-field official, known as a line judge.

They then move the other pole forward until the chain is taut, indicating the distance needed to secure a first down.

When a play ends, the line judge marks the spot of the ball along the sideline with his foot and the rear pole moves to that spot, giving fans, players and coaches a relatively easy way to visually gauge the distance needed for a first down.

"I watch the officiating more than I watch the Ravens," said Schumann, a Catonsville resident, who works at the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville.

Schumann, whose ultimate goal is to work a Ravens conference championship game at M&T Bank Stadium (the final game before the Super Bowl), said that being there for the 24-9 first-round playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 6, was special.

"I knew it was Ray Lewis' last game (at home), so I moved up close with everybody else that was on the field," Schumann said about the Ravens' star linebacker. "I thought it was really neat to be there."

Schumann, who was in the crowd with Cook, was later shown an aerial photo view of both of them in the crowd near Lewis' celebrated final entrance.

"It's not hard to pick us out with the black and gold stripped vests on," Schumann said. "We kind of stood out."

That said, the last thing any of the chain gang officials normally want to do is stand out.

It they do their jobs with precision, they will blend in with the rest of the sideline workers.

One caveat for the group is that initiating conversations with players before, during or after the game is not allowed and autographs are not to be solicited, either.

Still, off-the-cuff interaction with some players and coaches can happen.

For instance, Cook was attempting to secure his stake during the Dec. 2 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, only to be thwarted because a player's foot was in the way.

"Then, this voice says to me, 'Just ask me to move and I'll move, otherwise I'm going to knock you over.' I looked up, and I'm looking at this big guy and the big forearm of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He was grinning," the Catonsville native said.

Roethlisberger was sidelined with an injury and did not play. He often followed the action near the line of scrimmage with the chain crew.