"And what I seen was this whole rack of people a sittin' on these two banks and lookin' at one another across this pretty little green cow pasture. Well they was. And somebody had took and drawed white lines over it, and drove posties in it and I don't know what all ... and I looked down there and saw five or six convicts a runnin' up and down and a blowin' whistles. They was."- What it was, Was football. From: The Wit and Wisdom of Andy Griffith (June 3, 1926-July 3, 2012)
Adam Paradowski's rookie jitters disappeared last Saturday night the first time he threw his little red weighted flag up in the air and made a penalty call.
For the record, no-one yelled at him for it, either.
The 39-year-old Winnipeg resident was working his first CFL game as an umpire (toughest spot on the field) at Commonwealth Stadium where the host Edmonton Eskimos were holding discussions with the Toronto Argonauts.
Of all the things he had caught, it was something a tad unusual for his position.
"That was pass interference, which umpires don't normally call," he said.
"The line had broken up a bit and gone wide so I was following that coverage and it just happened that the Toronto receiver (Chad Owens) just cut right to my side and it just happened to be in my full field of view and I saw it, it was early and there was a pull (by Chris Thompson) so I didn't really think too much.
"I just threw the flag and kept on officiating."
TV caught the whole thing, too. No. 45 tossed that flag with confidence, he did.
After that, things started to happen fast for the former blocking back from J.M.A. Armstrong High School in Salisbury, N.B.
On an early second-quarter time out, Paradowski looked across the field and saw Andre Proulx, his crew chief, had handed the black referee's hat to another official and was now on the sidelines being looked at by the Edmonton doctor.
Turned out to be a minor heart attack - if there can be such a thing. Proulx will be alright, the league says, but imagine that for a rookie introduction to the big leagues?
Ah, the Big Leagues. That's exactly what Paradowski has made it to, and he did it the way a professional athlete would.
Starting with minor league and high school games on the sidelines, running the down box, then on to the field, then get your first playoff game, first college game, first college final, an invitation to the big league camp to see how you look, and on like that until the phone call comes.
"In January, I got a call from Tom Higgins [CFL head of officiating]," said Paradowski, on the phone from Winnipeg, where he works in the broadcast industry. "And usually, when you get that call, you have an idea of what's coming, and that's when he said I would get a chance.
"My jaw dropped. And I had a smile on my face for days after."
So it was a little pre-season seasoning in Hamilton a month back, and it was time for the big debut. On national television, with wife Krista, and the two boys, watching back home.
Not a bad deal for $650 a game, air fare, a good hotel and the most fun you can have inside football without being a player.Football umpire unique job
There is no officiating job in sports like a football umpire. George Black, who spent more than 440 CFL games working most all of the spots, can attest to that.
"He's what we call the hub of the wheel," says Black. "Everyone else is on the periphery, he's in the centre.
"It's a tough job. [Umpire's] learn to slip and slide, and try not to get clobbered too often. He gives us our only inside-out look at the play."
Umpires stand right behind the linebackers, middle of the field, and need eyes in the back of their little white hats, their neck on a swivel, much athleticism to stay out of the way of crossing routes and charging running backs, and a traffic cop's mentality.
After three yards and a cloud of dusty rubber particles, the guy who jumps into that pile and gets all those big fellas to cease and desist is the umpire. Takes a combination of tact and command.
And a pre-season contest to build a little confidence.
"I didn't say a lot," Paradowski says, of the Hamilton experience where he worked the Ti-Cats and Argos. "Getting into the pile, letting the players know you're there and you are watching. But I was pretty quiet, still trying to find my place and get the job done."
By the Edmonton game, there was "a lot more talking, answering questions, letting them know to be careful, developing the rapport."
That rapport, says Black, is vital, and he doesn't see it as a problem in his rookie.
"[Adam] is a fine young man, a really avid learner. He has poise and he's already started to demonstrate leadership within the crew in terms of working with other guys, making suggestions about how they should be doing things.
"I would expect he would be doing this [job] for a long, long time."
Now, it's a case of getting experience and building on what Paradowski already has.
That would be "it," something you can see in an amateur official right away.
"It's presence. It's physical fitness. It's rules knowledge. It's the way he carries himself, the way he signals," says Black. "It's the way he interacts with his crew mates. It's the way he interacts with coaches and players. It's a whole bunch of things that we would call intangibles.
"If you are going to be successful at our level, you have to have it. And Adam's got it."
What's next will be around a half dozen games up to Labour Day, and then Paradowski and the handful of other rookies will be sent back to CIS football, where the game will suddenly be so much slower than they are used to.
There, they can put what they've learned into play under a little less pressure and come back in 2013 ready for a possible full season.Special moment
No matter what the sport, the moment where you pull on your first big league uniform is a special one, and it's no different for the officiating crew.
Paradowski got his at referee camp in early June, but instead of putting it all on at the same time, he did it piecemeal so as not to ruin the experience later. Then came his exhibition game.
"Just seeing myself in the mirror with the jersey on was pretty ... it was unbelievable," he says, and you can hear the pride down the line. "And just getting the chance to wear the logo for the first time, that was ... it was important."
And out of the tunnel for the first time to the game field at venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium.
"It's an amazing feeling. And I'm just enjoying that feeling of being a part of the CFL and working as hard as I can to stay there."
With the rest of the convicts.
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