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John Parry: interview with the veteran NFL referee

John Parry, is one of the most experienced referees in the league, with 16 seasons under his belt and number 132 on his back. He officiated Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.

John Parry, referee de la NFL.
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New England Patriots - Atlanta Falcons Live

John Parry wears shirt number 132 and has more than a decade and a half of experience behind him including the 2012 Superbowl. Although he started his career officiating baseball, he soon changed to American football following in the footsteps of his father. Dave Parry was a side judge in Superbowl XVII, 1982. But John doesn't just have the Superbowl experience through his father; he was given a side judge role for the XLI edition and then was assigned as referee for the XLVI.

John Parry arbitró la famosa Super Bowl en la que los Giants se alzaron con el anillo frente a Patriots.
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John Parry arbitró la famosa Super Bowl en la que los Giants se alzaron con el anillo frente a Patriots.Getty images

Super Bowl XLVI went down in history for several reasons: it was won by the New York Giants who overcame the New England Patriots, 21-17, to decide the 2011 campaign. After a lousy regular season for New York with only nine wins (56%), the worst of any team that then went on to win the main prize, they lifted the trophy for the fourth time in Indiana. This was the first time the finale had been held in the state of Indiana. It was a game that swung both ways and for the neutral spectator an exciting one, with emotions running high right until the end of the fourth quarter. Quarterback, Eli Manning, was named MVP of the final.

His father had died a year before John took charge of the Super Bowl and Sports Illustrated ran a headline: "Inspired by his late father, John Parry officiated the Super Bowl XLVI perfectly." Big words indeed and we hope you enjoy our interview:

1. One question I always love to ask… let’s go back in time to New York 3rd of September 2000, the Giants received the Cardinals in the first game of the season, and you enter for first time a NFL pitch as an official. Do you remember how you felt the night before in the Hotel, on the way to the Stadium, the last minutes before the game, the noise in the Stadium as you were walking on the pitch?

We all remember “firsts.” The summer leading up to the game was filled with extensive preparation including the annual officiating clinic, two training camps, tons of book and film work as well as four pre-season games. Having worked in the Big Ten for five years and having worked in some of the largest college stadiums, I thought I was prepared. Wrong! I took my wife with me for my first assignment so she could see me work my first NFL game live. I tossed and turned all night in anticipation of kick off. I barely ate breakfast. During the national anthem, I couldn’t swallow. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a speed I had never officiated before. I was sure in my mind it was evident to her sitting in the stands as she watched me work. I was fish out of water. Thankfully, with repetition, the game has slowed down for me. Sixteen years later, opening day, first game of the year is always a good gut check – especially in the ig Apple. That feeling is a big part of why we do what we do.

2. The NFL and officiating were not strange to you, your father Dave Parry even got to be assigned to Super Bowl XVII as a side judge, in 1983 in California. The Redskins beat the Dolphins that day. You were 17 years old, did you make it to the Stadium, and how you remember the week before that Super Bowl at home?

Dave Parry, an inspiration to his son.
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Dave Parry, an inspiration to his son.

I don’t remember a life without the NFL. I was in grade school when my father joined the league. My Dad’s NFL officiating was all business to him. Only my Mother made the trip out west. We watched as a family from home. Back then, they actually showed and introduced the officials on TV. I can remember my family cheering as my Dad’s face was shown on TV and he stated his name and hometown. The week leading up to his departure was pretty tense at home – Mom kept us from under his feet so he could focus with the task at hand.

3. Years later you would be assigned to a Super Bowl as a side judge, Super Bowl XLI, and then you made it in the sport history books as being assigned to the Super Bowl as a referee in the Super Bowl XLVI in 2011, with the Giants defeating the Patriots and the most watched Super Bowl in history at that time. Do you have any special anecdotes or particular memories about these Super Bowls?

Super Bowl XLI had rain. We flew my parents to Ohio before leaving for Florida. My Mom stayed back with the kids and my wife and I flew with my Dad to Florida. One of my proudest officiating moments is standing with Bill Polian, who knew my father, during the team warm-ups and seeing my Dad waiving from the stands to ensure I knew he was ready for kick off – 90 minutes before kickoff, in the pouring rain, while everyone else was in the parking lot tailgating. For Super Bowl XLVI everyone recalls the intentional grounding and sideline catch. I remember our rock solid game preparation was second to none and a Sunday morning devotional that changed my life.

4. Before the Super Bowl was just a day game, now it’ s a two week event. The new officials hired for the NFL received a phone call from Dean Blandino before the season. How does it happen in the Super Bowl? Do you receive a phone call, a letter? What is the procedure?

Yes, approximately two weeks before the Super Bowl, you get the call of your life. Once the emotions settle from that call, you go to work. You attempt to get all the logistical items completed as soon as possible – patches sewn of shirts and hats, game tickets, hotel rooms, etc. Once that is done you begin to prepare the crew for the biggest sporting event of the year. We initially work from home via e-mail and conference calls. We arrive three or four days before the game and have daily preparation meetings. Our preparation to performance ratio is extremely high all season long, but this game is and should be treated different.

5. You seem to give direct explanations of the penalties, right to the point, and keep a straight, almost rigid posture. Is it your way of being, in your personal life, or is it a way an official has to act once you enter a NFL Stadium?

The seventeen Referees are all different with different personalities. Those that have gone before us were also different. I don’t practice announcements in front of a mirror or attempt to create language that is memorized. I don’t attempt to be rigid and maybe I need to relax a bit more. My wife analyzes my, odd at times, mannerisms – tough love. To me, the game is about the players. I attempt to be concise. I think my style has a great deal to do with flying professionally for nearly 18 years. The communication between pilots and controllers is concise.

6. This year the Steelers signed Alejandro Villanueva, a Spanish player OT that we follow avidly in Spain and AS Newspaper. On an interview he told us that officials usually talk a lot on the field and even you can ask them what you did wrong to correct yourself on the next play. Do you usually talk to the players? Do you have the time during a game to chat like that to the players? Or it is mostly a job for the rest of the crew?

Steelers recent signing, Spaniard, Alejandro Villanueva
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Steelers recent signing, Spaniard, Alejandro Villanueva

Communication is an officiating tool. Some officials are more vocal than others and some are in a better position on the field to communicate to players and some are in a better position to communicate with coaches. I feel I am a very vocal official. I spend a great deal of time talking to players, coaches and my crewmates.

7. Following with the Steelers, you were assigned this year to the Wild Card game between the Steelers and the Bengals, a game that was foreseen as a difficult one, with two teams that “have issues” with each other. Your crew had to patrol the half line during the warm up and later the game got really nasty. Probably a nightmare for a referee! Were you talking to the players or coaches during the game?

We prepared for this game like every other game and we communicated to coaches and players like every other game. We had worked this game week 14 in the same city, so we came prepared based on our last experience. Both teams played hard. Both teams are emotional. Both come from great cities. It was a great rivalry playoff game.

8. In soccer, referees are known to call the captains to their dressing room before the game, to tell them they want full collaboration and to keep it a clean game. Does it happen the same in NFL football?

John always willing to take in some friendly advice from a coach.
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John always willing to take in some friendly advice from a coach.

We meet with coaches 90 minutes prior to the game starting in their locker room. We then meet with the coaches again on the field roughly 30 minutes before kickoff. The players, coaches and officials spend a great deal of time during the off-season and throughout the season to ensure we are on the same page and with full collaboration from all three sides to create the best sporting environment.

9. You were a Big 10 Conference and Arena Football League official, is it that difficult to make the transition to the NFL for an official?

They both helped prepare me for the NFL in different ways. Arena football is extremely fast football played on a smaller field. The Big Ten is tradition based at the highest NCAA level, with some of the greatest fans and largest venues.

10. Something that many people do not know is that you were a professional pilot flying corporate jets for 18 years. How difficult is it to combine together your personal life with two demanding careers? How many times you had to sacrifice one for the sake of the other?

So much so that I had to retire from flying. As both careers advanced both became more demanding and I found I could not serve two masters. I miss flying but love football officiating.

11. Many people are telling me that they don’t know any more what is a catch in the NFL, do you think that some rules should be revised and made easier to officiate and understand?

The competition committee does a great job annually reviewing difficult rules to officiate. From an officiating stand point, it probably is as clear as it ever has been. Controversial plays will always be debated regardless of the rules or mechanics used to enforce them. Every year coaches, players, officials and owners meet to implement changes to make our game safer and better.

12. Once you are on the pitch, there are professionals and supporters scrutinizing every single movement and action you make throughout the whole game, how does it make you feel?

Great. Our job has three qualities that make it satisfying – autonomy, complex challenges, high risk to reward ratio.

13. You started as a baseball little league umpire, what made you shift to officiating in football?

I officiated baseball, basketball and football. Baseball was my first love. I officiated all three until I was in my mid-twenties. Job, family and three sports was just too much. Football offered more games on the weekends which matched up well with my corporate flight job.

14. How do you plan a game with your crew once you arrive in the hotel and meet together?

Planning for the next game begins immediately following the last game. We watch a great deal of film during the week and during our Saturday meeting. We attempt to learn from the past and plan for the future.

15. During the season you need to put in around 35 hours a week in your officiating duties, how much time do you spend communicating with your crew and Blandino’s team?

Dean Blandino, Vice-President of the NFL and responsible for the referees.
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Dean Blandino, Vice-President of the NFL and responsible for the referees.

I talk to my crewmates every day. Most of the communication from New York, which includes Dean’s team, arrives through memos, e-mails and videos. They have a large number of people who need to receive the global message.

16. Do you keep contact with other NFL referees during the season? Do you exchange emails or messages, info etc?

Yes, we communicate with each other as much as we can based on how busy we are with our own crews. Like everywhere in the business world, I am closer to some than others. My best friends are all officials.

17. Do you study the teams you are going to officiate as the NFL teams study each other? Do you check them in order to acquire more information ahead of the game?

See answer 14.

18. You are nowadays a motivating speaker with some high profile clients, how do you motivate your crew before a game? I am thinking especially when a rookie comes into your crew, what do you tell them before the season? Do you feel the need to motivate them throughout the season?

I find everyone, including myself needs motivated and inspired daily. Brought to tears emotionally is a good thing. The key to successful teams are relationships. The key to relationships is trust. The key to trust is communication. We talk all the time. Saturday is our final preparation not our beginning preparation so I attempt to have some fun with our final preparation by using music or other videos outside of football to carry the point across. I enjoy both the preparation and execution of our Saturday meeting.

19. The good, the bad and the ugly of your officiating career, tell us…

The good – Game day
The bad – Travel
The ugly – Unforced errors


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