Football

Q&A with Mike Pereira: The face of American sports officiating

Former NFL referee Mike Pereira, at his Sacramento home Tuesday between his weekend work for Fox, has become the face of officiating for football fans.
Former NFL referee Mike Pereira, at his Sacramento home Tuesday between his weekend work for Fox, has become the face of officiating for football fans. jvillegas@sacbee.com

We all have our unique ability.

Mike Pereira’s is concisely and accurately articulating impending officiating decisions as they pertain to NFL games across the country.

While sitting in a Fox Sports Los Angeles studio. In roughly 10 seconds. With no time to prepare. With millions of people watching. Often with some witty banter.

It’s not rocket science, but it probably pays better. And it’s what makes him the face of sports officiating in America. Along with the poofy black and gray hair and glasses so square they’re hip.

What’s his secret?

“I think it’s the fact that I’m never nervous,” he said Tuesday, back home in Sacramento after his three-day work week. “I’m just fortunate. I don’t think of maybe millions of people watching. I just have a camera in my (work) cube.”

And he knows his rules. If there were a drinking game in which you had to take a shot every time Pereira was wrong, well, you wouldn’t have any fun.

“When you’re so confident about knowing the subject matter, it’s easier,” he said. “If I had to speak on TV about the Electoral College vs. the popular vote, I’d probably stammer and stutter.”

I’m not Terry Bradshaw or Jimmy Johnson. I’m the guy they look at and say, ‘I think that’s somebody.’ Then my phone rings with the Fox NFL theme song and they put two and two together.

Mike Pereira

Pereira, 66, wears snappy three-piece suits to work these days, but he was born to wear stripes growing up in Stockton as the son of a referee. His football playing career consisted of one high school practice and one hard hit to the hip, but he spent 11 years officiating high school and small-college games, 14 years at the Division I college level, two years as an NFL side judge and 12 years as the NFL’s head of officials.

He’s in his seventh season as Fox’s NFL rules analyst, a job created with him in mind. Other networks followed, but no one has come close to matching his ability to dissect and disseminate. More than 300,000 Twitter followers can’t be wrong. He’s the Walter Cronkite of refereeing.

Said Dick Ebersol, the former chairman of NBC Sports, in a 2015 assessment of sports announcers in the Sports Business Journal: “Pereira was one of the most brilliant things ever done by Fox. I kick myself nine ways to Sunday because I knew how wonderful Mike was.”

Pereira’s autobiography, “After Further Review,” was published this year. He’ll sign copies at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Arden Fair Barnes & Noble. If you want meat and potatoes, buy the book. If you want an appetizer, keep reading:

Q: “Referee” seems like kind of a dirty word these days. Is that a new phenomenon?

A: I don’t think it’s new, but there’s more exposure now. It’s the only avocation where you start out with nobody liking you and it gets worse. The big change is social media. Everybody is on social media making comments now seconds after every play.

Q: It used to be that a referee or an umpire would say they had done their job well if nobody knew they were there. Is that possible anymore?

A: I think it was wrong to think that, and I think that’s the way the NFL used to think. The philosophy was, let’s take officiating and sweep it under the carpet. Fans are so engrossed in the game through fantasy football, through their bets, through their passion for their home team, I think they deserve to know about the rules. You know the rules, you enjoy the game better.

Q: Meter maids or referees – who would win a popularity contest?

A: Meter maids. They take dollars out of your pocket. Referees take your heart if they do something against your home team. People would rather pay for a parking ticket than have points taken away from their fantasy player. If you walked a meter maid and (NFL referee) Ed Hochuli down the street in Sacramento, I think Ed Hochuli would be more likely to get decked.

Q: A penalty could be called on every play: true or false?

A: Probably 90 percent of the plays, you could say that technically a foul was committed. You could say there was a hold on every play. That would be the one. But the rulebook says there has to be an obvious effect to pursue the runner or the ball. As an official, it’s finding a balance of what needs to be called and what doesn’t. I’ve always said there are three stages to officiating. At first, you see nothing. Everything is a blur. In the second, you see everything and you call everything. Then you get to the third stage, where every referee tries to get. Where you see everything, but you know what needs to be called.

Q: NFL TV ratings are down. A possible reason is that the NFL is legislating the violence out of the game with an increasing number of rules. Your thoughts?

A: I agree with that statement, but I don’t think there’s a choice because of the lawsuit that was filed against the league (for neglecting player safety). I personally think the game of football is overexposed. I know it’s not popular for me to say, especially since I’m part of Fox, which has the rights, but I think there’s too much football, and I think there’s too much NFL football.

A good coach. A good broadcaster. In my mind, not a good person.

Mike Pereira, on ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Jon Gruden

Q: Finish this sentence: Make me the NFL boss for the day and the first thing I would do is ...?

A: Make pass interference a maximum 15-yard penalty. Potential 40-, 50-, 60-yard penalties put too much pressure on officials. It never resonated with me that you could kick a guy and get a maximum of 15 yards, and you could pull a guy’s jersey and get 60.

Q: Would you say you love officiating?

A: Yes, and in every sport that I watch. I don’t watch games, I watch the dynamics of the crew of officials. How they move. How their positions change. How they rotate. If I’m watching a football game, I don’t care if it’s a high school football game, I’m rooting for the third team, the officials team. When I watch a tennis match, I focus on those line judges that are sitting there trying to make decisions on a ball that’s going 150 mph. I have greater appreciation for good officiating than I do for good playing.

Q: How would the NFL look if players called penalties on themselves like gentlemen, as in golf?

A: There wouldn’t be a game without officials. There would be chaos. Golfers don’t even know all the rules. That’s why it infuriates me about how officials are underappreciated.

Q: You wrote in some detail in your book about Roger Goodell, Bill Belichick and Jon Gruden. In concise TV analyst mode, give me one sentence on ... Goodell?

A: He’s a man, in my opinion, who likes to get his own way, and has a tendency to not listen to input from others.

Q: Belichick?

A: Best coach that I have seen. Was very fair to deal with, but I felt like I lost him over “Spygate.” I felt like he thought I was involved in getting the video, and our communication from that point on broke off completely.

Q: Gruden?

A: A good coach. A good broadcaster. In my mind, not a good person.

Q: How often do you get recognized?

A: More and more. I’m not Terry Bradshaw or Jimmy Johnson. I’m the guy they look at and say, “I think that’s somebody.” Then my phone rings with the Fox NFL theme song and they put two and two together.

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak

Book signing

What: Mike Pereira’s autobiography, “After Further Review”

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Arden Fair Barnes & Noble

  Comments