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A Herd of Zebras

Sept. 04, 2006
Sept. 04, 2006

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Sept. 4, 2006

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A Herd of Zebras

A third brother having earned his stripes, the Paganellis are the first trio of siblings to officiate in the NFL

For CarlPaganelli Jr., officiating football games is neither profession nor vocationbut a hereditary condition. To hear him tell it, he has persevered not byvirtue of pluck or determination but because he can't help it. "In myfamily, being a referee is genetic," he says. "It's in ourDNA."

This is an article from the Sept. 4, 2006 issue Original Layout

He and hisbrothers, Perry and Dino, are making pro football history this season as thefirst trio of siblings to officiate in the NFL. Perry, 48, is in his ninthseason with the league. Carl Jr., 46, has been on the job for seven seasons.Dino, who served as an NCAA, NFL Europe or Arena Football League back judge forthe last 12 years, is one of the league's four new officials. "If they hadbeen from three different families, we still would have offered themjobs--they're that good," says Mike Pereira, the league's vice president ofofficiating. "Each time we've hired a Paganelli, he's been the topcandidate for the position."

Selected from afield of more than 1,200 candidates, Dino, 38, is the youngest of the NFL's 120officials. He will make his NFL regular-season debut in Kansas City on Sept.10, when the Chiefs host the Bengals. His brothers will be assigned todifferent crews.

Dino's promotionis the latest in a series of career highlights for the brothers. Carl Jr.worked the 2005 Super Bowl. Three weeks earlier Perry had officiated an AFCdivisional playoff game. Last January, Dino refereed the NCAA championship gameat the Rose Bowl. Still, Dino says that joining the NFL is the ne plus ultra ofrefereeing. "You can't go any higher--you've made the Show," he says."It's difficult to get there and difficult to stay. Reffing in the NFL ishighly competitive, and your performance is under constant scrutiny."

Perry and Dinoare back judges; they stand behind the defensive secondary. Carl Jr. is anumpire, positioned just off the defensive line. "Perry and I like to hangback and observe," says Dino, a high school physical education teacher inWyoming, Mich. "You have to be a little crazy to umpire that close to theline of scrimmage, and Carl has the personality." When he's not keepingorder on NFL fields, the middle Paganelli brother is a federal probationofficer in Grand Rapids. Perry is a retired high school assistantprincipal.

Their father,Carl Sr., began the family tradition in 1962, officiating games at Lee High inthe Grand Rapids suburb where he and his wife, Mary, raised their boys. WhenCarl started as a ref, he was paid $7.50 a game and had to shell out $150 for ablack-and-white uniform. It took him an entire season of jayvee and varsitygames to break even.

After eight yearsof high school football he was hired by the Michigan Intercollegiate AthleticAssociation. He worked 20 years at the college level and officiated orsupervised in the USFL, XFL and Arena League. He was an official observer atthe very first World League of American Football game--London versus Frankfurtin 1991--and had to don officiating duds when a head referee was hurt in theopening minutes. Alas, he never got his chance to work an NFL game. "Itjust didn't happen for me," says Carl, 69, who retired from on-fieldofficiating 10 years ago. He now supervises officials for the NCAA'sMid-America Conference and serves as a paid observer for the NFL.

In the Paganellihousehold, as on the football field, Carl Sr. called the shots. He was, notsurprisingly, a strict disciplinarian. "My father was the head ref,"says Dino. But when the boys' mother stepped in to make a call, "Dad neveroverruled her," Dino adds.

The boys taggedalong to Carl Sr.'s games and learned their craft while watching him from thesideline. "Carl was as confident in his decisions as he wasknowledgeable," Pereira says. "He shared a lot with his boys."

Now the nextgeneration of Paganellis is learning to play by the rules. During a familytouch football game at Perry's home this summer, Dino's sons, Brady and Jake,alternated between wide receiver and cornerback while Uncle Perry served as thedesignated quarterback. Dino reffed. On one play five-year-old Jake leaped fora pass, only to be pushed aside by Brady, who's seven. Dino called passinterference.

Brady protested,and Perry backed him up. When the ruling stood, Brady appealed to Dino, saying,"Dad, Uncle Perry's in the NFL, and you're just a rookie."

Dino sighs at thememory. "Most [NFL] defensive backs would have seen it the same way,"he concedes.

It's All Relative

Family connections abound among NFL officials. Hereare some other father-son or brother acts who whistle while they work.

JEFF AND JERRY BERGMAN
Jeff, a line judge, and Jerry, a head linesman, became the first brothers toofficiate a preseason NFL game together, in 2002. Their father, Jerry, was anNFL official for 30 years.

DON AND MIKE CAREY
Mike, a referee, has been in the league since 1990. Don is in his 12th seasonas a back judge. Last October, they became the first siblings to work aregular-season game together.

JEFF AND JERRY SEEMAN
Jeff, a fifth-year line judge, is the son of Jerry, an official from 1975 to'90 and the NFL's director of officiating from 1991 to 2001. Jerry worked twoSuper Bowls.

GENE AND TONY STERATORE
After three seasons as a field judge, Gene was promoted to referee this season.His brother Tony, a back judge, joined the NFL in 1999. They'll work on thesame crew in 2006.

PHOTOLANCE WYNN/GRAND RAPIDS PRESS/APFAMILY BUSINESS Papa Carl taught Carl Jr. (124), Dino and Perry (46) to play by the rules.PHOTOJAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES [Seecaption above.]