Local referee recalls his stint in the NFL

Bruce Hermansen was 68 when he was a replacement official in 2012

Bruce Hermansen did work a Seattle Seahawks game when he filled in as a replacement official for the National Football League back in 2012.

“Not THE Seahawk game,” he said.

No, not that one. 

Not the Fail Mary game, featuring the Packers and Seahawks in front of a national television audience. 

Bruce Hermansen, the president of the Evergreen Football Officials Association, is proud of his seven weeks working as a referee in the National Football League back in 2012. Photo by Paul Valencia
Bruce Hermansen, the president of the Evergreen Football Officials Association, is proud of his seven weeks working as a referee in the National Football League back in 2012. Photo by Paul Valencia

He was not part of the “no call” on offensive pass interference. He had nothing to do with the Seahawks being awarded a touchdown based on simultaneous possession, a pass many non-Seahawk fans thought should have been ruled an interception.

That game became one of the most controversial finishes in NFL regular-season history.

He was not there, but that game impacted his immediate future.

“I was at a meeting that night. When I came home, my wife was watching that game and she said, ‘You need to look at this.’

“After I saw it, I looked at it four or five times, I said, ‘Well, I’ve got a feeling my game next week is not gonna happen.’”

Sure enough, the NFL and its officials came to a labor agreement, and the replacement officials were no longer needed.

Still, Bruce Hermansen can always say he officiated on the sport’s biggest stage.

Retired from the tech industry, Hermansen returned to his home in California and continued officiating in the high school ranks. He was 68 at the time and by then he had spent 38 years as an official, including many seasons as a college football official. 

Now 76, he and his wife Kathryn have called Vancouver home for the past three years.

And he is still in the game, as president of the Evergreen Football Officials Association.

“Now that I’m approaching the end of this career, I really, really enjoy working with younger officials,” said Hermansen, a self-described “rules nut.”

He works games in the region and shares his experiences.

“I enjoy presenting rule changes, understanding rule changes, and making sure everyone else understands them as well,” he said. “I really enjoy working with the younger guys. Makes me feel younger, too.”

At the not-so-young age of 68, but in great physical shape, he made it all the way to the top of the profession. 

It was another high school official who pushed for Hermansen to put in his application when the NFL was looking for potential replacements in anticipation of a lockout. Hermansen kept saying no. Then Kathryn insisted he give it a try.

Hermansen relented, but figuring at the age of 68, there would be no way.

Age is just a number. He was in incredible shape. Besides his decades-long resume of officiating, he noted his workout regimen.  

After a phone interview, the NFL asked Hermansen to leave open the next weekend. Sure enough, Hermansen was sent a plane ticket to Dallas for a clinic, pretty much an audition.

Bruce Hermansen was the referee for the Patriots-Ravens game on Sunday Night Football back in 2012. It would be his last game in the NFL. Photo courtesy Hermansen family
Bruce Hermansen was the referee for the Patriots-Ravens game on Sunday Night Football back in 2012. It would be his last game in the NFL. Photo courtesy Hermansen family

Besides football knowledge, potential replacement officials also had to undergo a background check, a security check. There were physicals, too. One doctor asked Hermansen if he really was 68. 

A week or so later, Hermansen was back in Dallas for the second clinic. By this time, he said, he knew he was likely to be chosen. Still, he did not know for which position. Would he be on the field? Or an alternate? A side judge or …


Yes, the referee, the white hat. That was where Hermansen had his most recent experience, and the NFL put him in the position to talk to the nation every week.

He ended up working seven games, four preseason games and the first three weeks of the 2012 regular season. His first game was Tennessee at Seattle in the preseason.

“When we first got to the stadium, the first thing I noticed was four or five of the other guys I was working with went immediately out to the field and just stood there, looking around,” Hermansen said. “I’ve got to get them comfortable right away. If they’re going to be focused on the size of things, they’re not going to be focused on what they need to be watching. We had a chat about that.”

Whether it was age, experience, or a combination, Hermansen said he was not nervous when it came to working the games.

“You can tune the crowd out. You don’t even think about the crowd,” he said. “I was more concerned with the speed with all that was happening on the field.”

In small college football, and in high school games, the referee can easily find the press box when making his signals or explaining a penalty. That is not always the case in the NFL.

Each of the replacement crews for the NFL games had a mentor. The mentor gave Hermansen some advice.

“He said, ‘You’re not going to know where anything is in a stadium that size. Just find a good-looking blonde in the stands and tell her what you want to tell her. Don’t look for the camera. It will find you.’ Unfortunately, it will find you a lot,” Hermansen said.

In his seven games, he never had too crazy of a moment that was made infamous by ESPN or anything. But he did have to talk to a pool reporter once, explaining that he made a mistake. Mistakes happen with everybody involved in sports: coaches, players and officials. Talking to a pool reporter was certainly different, though. That does not happen on Friday nights.

There was one time, though, when he figured something was amiss.

There were multiple flags on a play, including one infraction that had different consequences depending on the level of play.

“I’m trying to think ‘NFL rules. NFL rules. Totally different than high school rules, totally different than the NCAA.’ I am taking forever, talking to the other official who made the other call. I realize time is dragging on too much,” Hermansen explained.

The alternate official, on the sideline and with a headset communicating with the NFL, yelled to Hermansen:

“Bruce, just call anything. Just call something!”

He snapped out of his daze and moved on with the game.

Another memory came from a game in Denver.

“Peyton Manning came up to me and said ‘Bruce. I’m Peyton Manning. How ya doing?’ As if I didn’t know who Peyton Manning was.”

Hermansen noted that every quarterback likes to be friendly with the referee, because the referee is the one who protects the quarterback.

Hermansen’s final game with the NFL was a Sunday night game, New England at Baltimore. The game of the week. National television. Playoff atmosphere in Week 3. 

He was supposed to be in Atlanta in Week 4, but then the Fail Mary happened on the final game of Week 3, Monday Night Football. The replacement officials were … um … replaced.

For seven weeks, though, he was at the top of the football world. And he is proud of how he and his crew performed.

“I know we didn’t make any of those blooper videos that came out,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

It was back to Friday Night Lights in California for Bruce Hermansen. A few years later, with his wife wanting to be closer to family in the Northwest, they found property in Vancouver that was perfect for them.

One of the first things he did was reach out to the Evergreen Football Officials Association. He did not necessarily want to work any games, though. 

“My thought: I don’t want to start over again, but maybe I’ll join an association just to stay in touch with the game and the rules,” he said.

Nope. That’s not going to happen. Associations across America are losing members, not gaining. A physically able, experienced official is going to work.

Hermansen had lunch with Todd Bingham, the assignor for the EFOA. Hermansen noted again that he wasn’t really thinking of returning to the field.

“The next thing I know, I got an assignment for a scrimmage,” Hermansen said. 

And just like when he tried out for the NFL, it was a nudge from Kathryn that led him back on the field.

“My wife said, ‘You packed up all your gear and brought it up here. You might as well put it to use.’”

That was three years ago. Since then, a new president of the association was needed, and someone nominated Hermansen, another seconded that nomination, and, well, he got the vote.

Some 40-plus years of officiating, including memorable stories from working in the National Football League, gave Bruce Hermansen the edge in experience.

Cannot replace that.

Note: The Evergreen Football Officials Association is on the lookout for new members, hoping to increase the number of football officials in Southwest Washington. For more information, go to: http://www.efoaonline.org/