NFL replacment official

Havre de Grace native Pete Shafer confers with another official during a game in Green Bay as shown on a TV screen. Shafer, who lives in Lutherville, worked as an NFL replacement official during the league's lockout of regular officials at the beginning of the season and in the preseason. (Photo courtesy Pete Shafer, Homestead Publishing / October 11, 2012)

It's been a couple of weeks since replacement officials ruled over all National Football League games for the first three weeks of the regular season, but Havre de Grace native and replacement referee Pete Shafer still has excitement for a job he aspired to do.

"It's been something I've worked for when I first got into officiating, something I aspired to do," Shafer said. The 48-year old Shafer, a 1982 graduate of Havre de Grace High School and a 1986 graduate of Washington College, has been involved in officiating football games for 23 years, with a desire to work at the top level.

So, when the call came to work at the professional level, Shafer said absolutely and if he had the chance to do it again, he would.

"If they called me again, I would go," he said.


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Shafer, like many, started out officiating at the high school level, working games in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County from his Lutherville home.

From high school games, Shafer jumped to D-3 football, refereeing games in the Centennial Conference. Most recently though, for the past handful of years, Shafer has worked college games at the level most know as D1-AA. That meant working games in the Colonial Athletic Conference, Ivy League and Patriot League.

Shafer, who officiates from the back judge position, says two NFL scouts, one in Massachusetts and the other in Connecticut, recommended him for the replacement role and that's how and why he got the call. Shafer notes that's he's been in the NFL Scouting System for 11 years.

"You know what to do to increase your chances to get in," Shafer said of the years he has been in the NFL system.

His replacement call meant work in all weeks of the pre-season and the first three weeks of the regular season. Week 1, Shafer and his fellow officials were in Green Bay, Wis., for the Packers versus the San Francisco 49'ers season opener at storied Lambeau Field.

"By far the loudest place I've ever been. It was deafening, an incredible experience," Shafer said of his Green Bay game. All things considered, not a bad first real game to officiate whether a replacement official or not.

"When we came out in Green Bay, the atmosphere, it was just electric," Shafer said. "I was like in awe, but I knew we had a job to do." A job that meant working with some of the game's best players and coaches from two of the league's better teams. "The butterflies were there, but we settled down once the game got into a flow," Shafer said.

In Week 2, Shafer and crew were sent to Florida to handle the Houston at Jacksonville game.

It was during Week 2 that Shafer said he felt a change in approval, or more like disapproval, from the fans. Shafer said his group didn't have any problems that day, but there were a few other games that impacted the love or hate for the replacement officials.

"I thought it really changed in Week 2," Shafer said. "The tone changed, but when we got to Oakland, it was just a little more intense."

Shafer was in Oakland in Week 3 where the Pittsburgh Steelers were matched up with the Raiders. He said the Steelers-Raiders game was a really good game.

"You could tell the guys were having fun," Shafer said.

The Steelers-Raiders game ended with the excitement of a last second field goal, unlike the Week 1 game in Green Bay. Shafer says the game in Oakland was better because of that, but he still says the atmosphere in Green Bay was the best place he worked.

During the weeks he filled in, Shafer said he was told, "Don't worry about the labor agreement, you'll work until we tell you to stop."

Throughout his replacement time, Shafer said he had no trouble with the players. "The players were very respectful, more polite than most people thought they could be," he said.

Shafer said most people believe the biggest difference from working college to professional is the speed of the game, but he saw and thought something different.

"The biggest difference I found was how incredibly athletic the players were," he said. "They did things normal people can't do."

The other thing that impressed Shafer was the game itself. "How precise the game is, how well they execute the game," he said.

Shafer even noted that while working the Houston-Jacksonville game, it was like he was seeing the game through Texans running back Arian Foster's eyes, because of the level of precision with which Foster played.

Shafer was not allowed to discuss contract terms, saying they were confidential, but it's believed he and other replacement officials were compensated at a rate of $3,000 per game. "I told some of my co-officials I was going to check at each state we worked to see if he could get unemployment," he said jokingly.

At this point of the football season, Shafer is not working any level of football officiating. He's back full time to his real job, as senior vice president for Enterprise Solutions, a software company based in Connecticut., but he still believes there may come another day that he works with the NFL.

"I may still get a call from NFL to run the clock," Shafer said. Shafer points out that the NFL hires 800 people per NFL weekend to handle various jobs from clock operator to concussion doctor and everything in between.

Shafer lives in Lutherville with his wife Lisa and two daughters, ages 8 and 6. Shafer also has two sons, ages 17 and 14, from a previous marriage, who live out of state.