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Doing the right thing

Posted Friday, September 19, 2008, at 9:58 AM

Nineteen years of good, honest, hard work can go down the tubes quicker than the time it takes to say, "I'm sorry."

Just ask Ed Hochuli.

One of the National Football League's most respected referees for almost two decades, Hochuli, whose athletic physique is such that he is often called "Ed Hercules" saw his world come crashing down in a scant few seconds on the afternoon of Sept. 14.

Officiating an AFC West smackdown between the San Diego Chargers and homestanding Denver Broncos, one of those wild shootouts we've come to expect from those two hated rivals, Hochuli found himself smack-dab in the middle of the crosshairs late in the game.

With 1:17 left in the game,the Broncos were in possession of the ball at the San Diego 1-yard line, trailing the Chargers by seven points.

On a second-down play, Denver quarterback Jay Cutler dropped back to pass, but fumbled the football as it came squirting out of his throwing hand.

The ball was recovered by Charger linebacker Tim Dobbins, but Hochuli blew his whistle during the play, signaling that the play was dead.

Call it an inadvertent whistle, a blown call or just not being in proper position to see the play, but anyway you look at it, the play should not have been blown dead. It was just the wrong call.

Hochuli almost immediately admitted his mistake to San Diego Head Coach Norv Turner, but then spotted the ball at the point of the fumble (10-yard line), giving possession to Denver instead of San Diego.

Denver went on to score off this possession, and after going for two points instead of the extra-point kick, ended up edging past the Chargers 39-38, dropping San Diego to 0-2 in the highly-competitive AFC.

Had Hochuli not blown the play dead, the Chargers would have had the ball and would have been able to run out the clock on a victory. However, in the AFC West race, Denver is now 2-0, while the Chargers are winless at 0-2. Not the way San Diego fans had hoped the 2008 season would start.

Look, officials make mistakes at every level of competition. It's just bound to happen. That's nothing new. After all, as the old saying goes, "They're only human."

Hochuli, as would be expected, received a firestorm of criticism from Charger fans and was publicly reprimanded by the NFL, putting into jeopardy his ability to work future Super Bowls and playoff games.

I can't imagine all the grief that Hochuli has taken the past week. I also can't imagine all the names he's been called. And that's a shame for such a dedicated professional to have to endure all the mud-slinging that he's had to put up with.

But instead of running and hiding, Hochuli, who has worked two Super Bowls and countless NFL playoff games in his career, stood tall and admitted his mistake.

Over and over and over and over again.

"Affecting the outcome of a game is a devastating feeling. Officials strive for perfection -- I failed miserably," he said. "I am very, very sorry."

Hochuli also answered every e-mail he received, mostly negative to be sure, after this debacle, saying, "People deserve an answer."

And for this, Ed Hochuli, you are to be commended.

For you have the one element that is largely missing from the sports world today - accountability.

Instead of pointing the finger at someone or something else, you have chosen to do what is right by standing up and taking responsibility.

I know this is no consolation to Charger fans, because a loss is still a loss, and one like this is especially hard to take.

But if we had more players act like Ed Hochuli, the sports world would definitely be a much better place.

Because at the end of the day, we're all responsible for what we do, whether in the workplace or away from it.

Hochuli has now faced the music and will learn from his mistake.

I just hope that the players on the field and those Charger fans who belittled Hochuli can now do the same.

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Terry Mullins, Sports Editor
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Since my own high school sports career fizzled out before it really reached its zenith, I have managed to live vicariously through the student/athletes of the 16 high schools I've covered for Areawide Media since 2001. I've witnessed the highest of highs in the form of state championships. I have also seen first-hand the sting of disappointment when the ultimate prize was within reach, but still eluded the grasp of its pursuer. But through all the ups and downs associated with high school sports, my respect for the young competitors that suit up each night, along with the men and women who guide them, remains unwavering. Blog mission: With my passion for music, especially live music, running second only to my passion for sports, I'll try to devote this space to both. Especially when it concerns our region and what's happening around it. Look for commentary and features on area sports figures and musicians, along with things to get out and do in the beautiful Spring River/Ozarks area. But I'll not totally ignore the outside - I'll also hit on some national happenings in the wide worlds of sports and music.
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