By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
Jerome Boger, a veteran NFL crew chief, was a speaker at the NFL’s first-annual Careers in Football Forum in Atlanta, Georgia from December 15-16, and shared the highlights and lessons he has learned along the way to his successful career in the league.
The forum was started to continue promoting a strong relationship between the NFL and the HBCU, providing students, athletes and entry-level athletic administrators with information on career development and employment opportunities around the game of professional football.
Boger has special ties to Historically Black Colleges and Universities as he played quarterback for Morehouse College.
Up to four representatives from each MEAC and SWAC conference school have been hearing firsthand accounts from front office employees, game day operations members and everything in between. They will learn about the importance of each role, some of which go virtually unnoticed while others are on the front line.
NFL officials are a critical aspect in the flow of NFL games and player’s safety, however much of their preparation going unseen. They train, diet, study and practice just as the two teams competing against each other on game day. Officials invest an extraordinary amount of time into understand the meanings of the rules and the ways that they can be interpreted. So on Sundays, three teams take the field—the home team, away team and the team of seven officials led by a head referee or crew chief.
This is where Boger and the seventeen highly-skilled crews around the NFL lay their stake and make an impact. He shared his journey at the NFL’s Careers in Football Forum with the football teams of Grambling State University and North Carolina Central University—this season’s two best HBCU teams—and explained that it started as his way of giving back before blossoming into an enjoyable situation.
Though it is his job title, Boger would hardly call his thirteen-year career “work,” it is more of a joy and a passion.
“It’s not drudgery to me. Although I may not want to go to Green Bay in the winter, I’d go out there and perform my job to the best of my ability and have the time of my life,” he said. “Find something that you enjoy and then find someone to pay you to do it. That’s what I have here in officiating. I love it.”
During Boger’s time at Morehouse, he said that he knew playing in the NFL was not an attainable goal with the skill set that he possessed—a position that many student-athletes find themselves in—so he found another way to keep him close to the game of football.
He began with holding the chains on the sideline and transitioned into officiating for parks and recreation. Boger then moved to working for a local high school association and next at small colleges and major college conferences. Finally, he worked at NFL mini camps and pre-season games.
“The reward is that I put in the time and I had faith that I could do it,” he said. “I was patient and knew that it wasn’t going to happen overnight. When the opportunities became available, I was there and took advantage.”
With happiness in his voice, Boger spoke about the unlimited opportunities and increase in responsibilities that he has received since realizing this career path.
“As I progressed to being a game official, I transition to be a referee,” he said. “It’s not just about self-development at that point, a game official or referee also helps to develop his crew so that we can all perform and deliver a quality product every week. I have to be sure that all of the other officials on my crew are getting the proper amount of training and putting in the proper amount of study time.”
Instead of watching from a crowded restaurant or living room couch, most fans would pay to be as close as Boger to NFL action, kick back and enjoy the show. However, the seventeen crews of NFL officials are charged with the duty to do just the opposite.
“It is such a natural thing to want to watch and see the action, but in officiating you have a given task that you have to perform,” Boger said. “There are times I want to see the game, I hear the crowd get excited and want to see what’s going on, but I stay focused on my duty. At the end of the game I get a flash drive and Ill watch the whole game on the ride home.”
He also shared how he got over his initial fear of mistakes that may be made and that displaying an ultimate calmness is critical.
“I know some people are going to be happy with what I call and some will be upset every week,” he explained. “A lot of that is getting over your fear of failure. I’m not making every call out there, I’m depending on the seven other people out there and a replay assistant to get these plays right. We have to be calm and we have to be accountable.”
With a confidence and respect that Boger has earned among his peers, he has been allowed the privilege to officiate in nearly 200 games including a Super Bowl.
He was the crew chief for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, Louisiana infamously known for its 30-minute power outage during the third quarter, Beyoncé’s halftime show, and the San Francisco 49ers near-epic comeback against the Baltimore Ravens.
“I enjoy the travel that we do,” he said. “The NFL has a lot of amazing venues, and if I wanted to, I could go in a day earlier and partake in some of the things that are offered in each particular city. Just knowing that that is available to us is a big plus to me.
After some reminiscing about how far he has come, Boger assure the student-athletes that after their playing days are over, it’s not the end of their ability to be a part of a great product. Officiating has proven to be a career that can be enjoyable and fulfilling, as long as a level of physical fitness is kept, it can be done for a long time.
The unique perspectives presented at the Careers in Football Forum offer valuable access to opportunities that some may not have ever considered. The partnership between the NFL and HBCU will continue to create opportunity and drive diversity league-wide.
“It is important because a lot of times the youth, the collegiate student, don’t have an idea what they want to do and don’t know what is out there for them,” Boger said. “To me this is like having a direct conversation with projected employees and telling them that the ‘help wanted’ sign is going to be put out soon and these are the attributes that we are going to look for. When the ‘help wanted’ sign goes out they will be prepared to have what they need to be selected and fill that position.”