As a kid, Terry McAulay watched football games on TV and practiced the moves he saw — not the spins and jukes of the players, but the gestures and actions of the officials.

Hands on hips? Offside. Arms folded? Delay of game. At age 9, McAulay knew them all.

"Terry would sit there for hours, mimicking every signal that the referees used," said Dene McAulay, his mother. "We marveled at [the pantomime]. He never said a word, he just did it."

Some day, he told his family, he would referee the Super Bowl.

Sunday, McAulay will do that for the third time when the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks meet in Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, N.J. It's the highest honor for an NFL official and a tribute that doesn't surprise high school coaches in the Baltimore area who dealt with McAulay, of Howard County, in his early years as an arbiter.

"Terry's games moved along easily," said Doug DuVall, who coached Wilde Lake's football team for 36 years. "He called the penalties that everyone saw and the ones nobody saw. He was an official who helped the game, never hindered it."

McAulay, 54, who lives in Glenwood with his wife and three children, refereed high school games — mostly in Howard and Anne Arundel counties — between 1982 and 1993. He was, by most accounts, cool, deliberate and unerringly by-the-book.

"He was there to do the job and not be the show, like some officials," said Don Van Deusen, then Atholton's coach.

Rhubarbs also didn't seem to faze McAulay, who, per NFL regulations, is forbidden to speak with the media until after the Super Bowl.

"We had arguments. He let you scream but he never changed his mind," said Joe Russo, Hammond's football coach for 25 years. "Terry's calls were always to the point, all business and even a little nerdyish. He was really into his work."

He handled basketball games with the same aplomb.

"I certainly got technical [fouls] from him, but we got along well," said Jerry Savage, who coached Loyola to 607 victories. "He'd make a call with a stern face and give you that air of professionalism."

McAulay's demeanor seemed to set him apart, coaches said.

"I always felt he was a step above the other officials," said Ken Kazmarek, Broadneck athletic director and its former basketball coach. "Whatever 'it' is, Terry had it. He had a command of both the game and his emotions, and a great knowledge of the rules. If there was a foul in the last two minutes, he wouldn't miss it. He had the confidence to make calls in the crunch."

'Going places'

McAulay wasn't born with a silver whistle in his mouth. The youngest of four children, he was raised by his mother in Hammond, La. To earn money, he officiated games while in high school, working beside older refs.

"Life was a struggle," said Linda McAulay, his sister. "Three of us kids put ourselves through college, including Terry, who'd been valedictorian of his class He grew up wanting to be in a better place."

An average athlete, McAulay made the basketball team at Valley Forge Academy in Amite, La., where he played alongside Jamie Spears, father of pop star Britney Spears.

On graduation, McAulay enrolled at a local college, reffing countless prep and sandlot games and working at McDonald's to save enough to attend LSU. Even then, flipping burgers, his work ethic showed.

"McDonald's offered him a job as manager, but he wanted college," his sister said.