What Do N.F.L. Zebras Chat About With Lions and Giants and Bears?

What Do N.F.L. Zebras Chat About With Lions and Giants and Bears?

Deion Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback, was renowned for openly quizzing several officials about what he could get away with while covering receivers — and what would draw a penalty.

“Can I do this? What about that?” Sanders would ask, demonstrating various tactics.

The familiarity between the officials and the players does not prevent a certain amount of arguing when a penalty flag flutters to the ground — or when one does not. But in most cases, the dispute does not last long. Football isn’t baseball; there is a clock running.

Joe Theismann, the former Washington quarterback who won the N.F.L.’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1983, recalled a time when he thought he had spotted a foul by a defensive player at the line of scrimmage. He turned to complain to referee Ben Dreith, who disagreed. There were no replay reviews back then, but Theismann knew that the officials went over tapes of their games days later.

“You’re going to look at a replay and know you’re wrong,” Theismann recalled telling Dreith.

“Maybe,” he recalled Dreith answering, “but here’s what I know for sure. If you don’t get the next snap off in 15 seconds, you’re going to get a five-yard penalty. And that won’t be very good for you, either.”

Theismann laughed as he retold the story.

“I mean, a lot of that stuff was fun,” he said. “I’m sure it still is.”

Steratore, though, pointed out that officials had to be mindful of when and how to interact: The seconds after a punishing, if legal, sack was never a time for levity or a quarrel.

“Quarterbacks are human; it hurts,” he said. “But after they got up and I knew they were O.K., I might sneak it in real quick that it was a legal hit.

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