Sunday, Sept. 14, was a rough day for Edward Hochuli.
During a tightly contested National Football League game between the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos, Hochuli made a controversial call that almost certainly cost the Chargers the game. And angry San Diego fans quickly found a way to let him know how hey felt — through an e-mail address provided by his law firm.
During the week, Hochuli is a name partner at 75-lawyer Phoenix litigation firm Jones, Skelton & Hochuli. On Sundays, he dons the black and white stripes of an NFL referee. The dual roles aren’t unusual, since NFL referees are not full-time employees and most hold regular jobs. (Referees can make up to $120,000 per season.)
Hochuli, 57, played college football at the University of Texas at El Paso in the early 1970s before earning his law degree from the University of Arizona in 1976. According to the Jones Skelton Web site, he founded the firm in 1983 and has taken “well over 150 civil jury trials to verdict.”
Meanwhile, Hochuli became an NFL official in 1990 and was bumped up to the rank of referee two years later. He has worked two Super Bowls. His on-field performance has inspired fans to start Web sites like What Would Ed Hochuli Do? (WWEHD). Hochuli’s buff physique has even inspired some to inquire about his workout regimen. And an informal ESPN poll of NFL coaches last summer nam ed Hochuli one of the league’s two best head referees out of a pool of 17. ESPN describes Hochuli as “an Arizona trial attorney with comic book musculature and post-call explanations precise enough to hold up in court.”
All that meant little when, with less than two minutes left in Sunday’s game between division rivals San Diego and Denver, Hochuli inadvertently blew his whistle after a fumble by Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. Though Hochuli quickly recognized his error by spotting the ball where a San Diego linebacker had recovered it, league rules prohibited him from awarding possession to the Chargers because his whistle had blown the play dead.
After the game ended in a Broncos victory, a storm of protest followed from fans, players, coaches, sportscasters — and, seemingly, anyone else who ever had a gripe against an authority figure.
While Hochuli did not respond to The Am Law Daily’s request for comment, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that he answered each of the irate messages sent to his law firm e-mail address with the following statement:
“I’m getting hundreds of e-mails — hate mail — but I’m responding to it all. People deserve a response.
You can rest assured that nothing anyone can say can make me feel worse than I already feel about my mistake on the fumble play. You have no idea …
Affecting the outcome of a game is a devastating feeling. Officials strive for perfection — I failed miserably. Although it does no good to say it, I am very, very sorry.”
The NFL maintains a grading system for its officials, and Mike Pereira, the league’s supervisor of officials, has said publicly that Hochuli will be downgraded as a result of the bad call. But Pereira also praised Hochuli’s body of work over his 19 years working games.
“We’ve talked probably seven or eight times since that game, and my whole goal is to try to get him back on the horse and work again this weekend,” Pereira told told The Associated Press. “He’s too good of a guy, too good of an official, to keep off the field.”
Having fumbled a few times ourselves, we here at The Am Law Daily hope that, for Hochuli’s sake, this Sunday is better than last.
This article first appeared on the AmLaw Daily blog.