November 23, 2012

100th Grey Cup a milestone for Johnson

It’s a big game for the players, that’s for sure. It’s a big game for the officials, too. You’d better believe it.

For the man who’ll wear the black hat as referee for the 100th Grey Cup Game, Glen Johnson, it’s big in a lot of ways. He admits that when he got
the call from the CFL’s director of officiating, Tom Higgins, a little under two weeks ago, he did a little fist pump when he got off the phone.

100th Grey Cup Centre

The 100th Grey Cup Championship matchup is set, as the Calgary Stampeders will duel the host Toronto Argonauts. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game.

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It’s an honour to be chosen for the officiating crew of a Grey Cup Game – it means you’ve graded out at the top of the zebra class through the regular season – even more of an honour when it’s the 100th.

For Johnson, there will be even more meaning when he marches out on the field, Sunday, as it will also be the 10th Grey Cup Game and 400th CFL game of his career.

“For us to get it it’s an accomplishment for our season,” Johnson said of his fellow Grey Cup officials. “We get it based on merit. We’re evaluated on every play of every game we do. We’re compared to our peers in our position. So we’re very much focused on our performance in trying to earn that Grey Cup Game or earn a playoff game. So when you get it, it really means something to you.”

Higgins concurs that the evaluation process for CFL officials is very strict. When the season starts, there are six complete crews, whittled to five at the halfway point of the schedule. Four crews are sent to the playoffs, and from the top five crews, an all-star team of officials is selected to oversee the Grey Cup.

“This ends up being the best of the best,” said Higgins, who went on to praise Johnson’s performance.

“Glen doesn’t get flustered,” he said. “He’s always composed. He is so technically sound, mechanically sound. He has a very good sense of what should be called and not called. He runs a game meticulously.”

Johnson, you’ll recall, is the man who’ll live forever in the minds of football fans because it was he who was referee of the 2009 Grey Cup Game and it was he who announced to the crowd and television audience that the Saskatchewan Roughriders had victory evaporate when they were caught with a 13th man on the field.

Would that be the most memorable Grey Cup moment of the Winnipeg native’s career? No.

“It was just another play for us,” he said, noting that it was a run of the mill call for a referee and his crew, even if was to become legendary. For him, the 2005 game in Vancouver, won by the Edmonton Eskimos over the Montreal Alouettes, in overtime, was more memorable. Johnson says he still vividly remembers one of the loudest crowds of his 23 year career.

“You could feel the noise in your body. It was unbelievable,” he said.

A surprising bit of information comes from the ref when asked about the pressure cooker that is a Grey Cup Game. He says it’s not usually as busy for officials as a regular season game.
“Generally what I’ve learned over my years doing these games is that they’re generally much better played, in terms of discipline, by the players,” he explained. “Fewer mechanical mistakes. Fewer offsides, procedures, things like that. Generally less penalties.”

Johnson admits a lot of people wonder why somebody might want to be a referee, what with the verbal abuse one tends to have to take. After all you can’t please everybody all of the time. but he has no regrets.

“I’ve just truly enjoyed the 23 years so far,” he said, looking back. “It’s been a really good journey to get to 400. It’s a pretty important milestone for me.”

As mentioned, the officiating crew for the Grey Cup Game is a group of all-stars. All judged to be the best of the best but there will be some natural unfamiliarity when they’re brought together at first.

Just as the teams do, the men who’ll make sure everything is on the up and up on Sunday will get together this week, look at film, discuss strategies and game plan.

Two of Sunday’s officials are from Johnson’s regular season crew – Umpire Ben Major and Side Judge Jeff Harbin. The rest of the crew is comprised of: Head Linesman Ron Barss, Line Judge Tim Kroeker, Back Judge Rob Skaggs and Field Judge Jason Maggio. The alternates are: Murray Clarke, Dave Foxcroft and Tom Vallesi.