Terri Valenti always enjoyed football as a little girl, but never dreamed then of being in the NFL. That became her goal only after officiating games for the first time in 1999.
Valenti this season will be the NFL's first female instant replay official in the booth, moving into that position two years after Sarah Thomas became the league's first full-time official on the field.
"I didn't know what was involved, how long the road would be, how hard it would be, or if I would ever get there," Valenti said Friday at the NFL's annual officiating clinic. "To be here at this point is just awesome."
The annual clinic, held before each season, was the first since Alberto Riveron's promotion to be the head of officiating after Dean Blandino left the NFL.
Valenti spent the past five seasons working for instant replay in the NFL, including a Super Bowl. She also worked in the past as an on-field official in the professional United Football League in 2009, as well as high school, college, minor league and international league games.
'A positive benchmark'
Her new instant replay role for the NFL is different and more prominent. Each of the 17 officiating crews have an instant replay official who is the go-between for the on-field referee and the NFL's centralized operations in New York, where final decisions on reviews will be made starting this season.
"The roles I've had in the past have been supporting the replay official and getting that information that person needs to do his or her job effectively," she said. "Now I'm kind of point person for a little team at each field."
NFL referee Brad Allen said the NFL is concerned about having diversity and the most qualified people.
"It's a positive benchmark in society that we're not sort of in an old-school, old-boys mentality," Allen said.
Valenti, a mother of five sons, said she has never had any concerns about the players. She said she has always felt welcome when working games.
"I think at first they give me a little bit more space, which I use to my advantage, but I also have five sons so I understand boys a lot," she said. "It's just natural for me, doing it at home for 33 years."
Drawing the line
Riveron, a nine-year game official and former referee, emphasized that the only change with the centralization of replay is that he will be the one making the final decisions on such calls.
"The process hasn't changed. We've had the same process in place now for three years. So the only thing that's changed about the process, that instead of the final decision being with the referee on the field, it's now with New York," he said. "The consultation process, the way we look at the film, the plays we show him, the angles, that hasn't changed one bit."
NFL owners also earlier this year made changes to give players more leeway for their celebrations after touchdowns. The football can again be used as a prop, and there can be group celebrations among teammates.
Asked if officials were clear on where to draw the line of celebrations, Riveron said, "Extremely clear."
Sexually suggestive moves and portrayals of violence, such as a throat slash, still are prohibited.
"Basically we're going to watch what they do and let them celebrate and if it gets excessive in length of time then we'll have to decide, but I'm not sure we know exactly what that length of time is," said referee Walt Coleman, who is going into his 29th NFL season. "We know players are out there thinking up what they're going to do, so it should be interesting and entertaining."