There are NO…FLAGS…ON the field!!!

Dianne and I have a son with a passion for rules and imposing order on chaos. It’s fairly typical of many boys his age. We joke that his career options will be limited to (1) Il Duce or (2) football referee. The latter would be a fine Austin College tradition.

Another season of NFL football is upon us, and fortunately there is no significant labor strife today between NFL management and the referees union. Such was not the case in 2012, when a dispute led to a three week officials strike to begin the season.

NFL management’s decision to use replacement refs was famously disastrous, as replacement refs soon made all of us fans realize why we appreciated the professionals. A deal was quietly reached after 3 weeks, and the veterans were back to oversee the games.

Legendary AC Coach Pete Cawthon was a college football referee during his hiatus between coaching in Sherman & Lubbock. While most of the “Cawthon’s boys” would follow his coaching path, a few were actually inspired by his time throwing flags and directing football games.

It takes guts to referee a ball game. Even in the best scenario, the passion of competing coaches, players, and fans is enough to question one’s physical safety and mental health. We celebrate the coach’s gutsy call or the player’s extraordinary effort. But a ref getting a tough call right? Well, we just EXPECT that. And if a call is blown, well ……. lord help you. Fans don’t forget. Ask a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan if they’ve ever heard of Don Denkinger.

Referees are heroes. They’re tasked with doing their jobs to perfection, with no prospect of adulation. They receive our frustration when they succeed, and our hostility when they fail. And they’re expected to remain stoic as they receive verbal abuse none of us would tolerate elsewhere.

And they make the games we love work.

This Roo Tale is also dedicated to my AC buddy John Talley. John was in my C/I class in 1988 and was a neighbor in Luckett Hall. We spent our first week in Sherman on a C/I Ropes Course near the Young County (TX) border. John would later QB the Roos to a winning season in 1991, including wins over Trinity & Tarleton. We will both be in Sherman watching the Roos beat up on Southwestern in October.

This Roo Tale is dedicated to AC alum Celeste Lunceford Havis. Celeste’s father is a former football referee, who called some games for our beloved Roos at Louis Calder stadium in Sherman.

This Roo Tale is dedicated to Vickie Victoria Kirby, Editor of the Austin College Magazine. The AC magazine was used for some of the research for this story. Vickie is a graduate of Franklin College, where AC star pitcher Homer Price was President briefly before landing the Presidency of the University of Texas. See the archives for that story. Thanks for the kind words about Roo Tales Vickie! 🙂

And finally, this Roo Tale is dedicated to AC alums Mark Mandl & Tiffanie Kruciak Mandl. Like the Parrishes, the Mandls have enlarged their family by adopting from abroad. I happened to be back in Bryan/College Station in January 2000, and watched Super Bowl 34 with Mark. Little did these two Roos know that we were watching a third Roo at work in that game.

Chapter 1: Forever Young
Chapter 2: A High “Price” for Mistakes
Chapter 3: Please Come to “Boston”
Chapter 4: There are NO…FLAGS…ON the field!!!
Chapter 5: One Yard Short

Frustration when the professionals don’t get it right… 

Chapter 1: Forever Young

Oil and land brought the Price family to Young County, TX after the Civil War. Richard Nathaniel (R.N.) “Bud” Price was born in 1905 in Graham, TX during a time that still resembled the wild days of American western expansion.

Price’s grandfather was a beloved Young County sheriff in 1888, when he was confusingly gunned down on Christmas Eve by Boone Marlow. Marlow was a member of a colorful and controversial family from a small town in Oklahoma which is now named Marlow. His mother was a relative of Daniel Boone, for whom he was named.

Boone was one of four “Marlow Brothers” who all gained infamy after the murder of Price’s grandfather. In the span of a few months after the murder, all four were killed or wounded at the hand of Young County vigilantes seeking revenge for their beloved sheriff. The Marlow brothers that survived made their way to the safety of Colorado.

The 1965 John Wayne film “The Sons of Katie Elder” is loosely based on the story of the Marlow brothers, as is the 2005 remake “Four Brothers” starring Mark Wahlberg. Johnny Cash also wrote the song “The Sons of Katie Elder” in conjunction with the movie.

Price was an athlete in school, and his father was an elder in the Presbyterian church. When it came time for higher education, the Price family decided to send young Bud east to Sherman.

At Austin College, Bud Price was a multisport standout. He was captain of the track team, manager of the basketball team, and a 1926 starter in football during the Cawthon era (see photo). On the gridiron, he shined as a receiver and primary target of QB W.H. Keeling. Keeling-to-Price was a play opposing teams quickly got used to in 1926 and 1927.

Price was a “Cawthon boy”, and most of the Cawthon boys would head into the world of coaching after graduation. Price, however, was one of the last Cawthon boys. He departed AC in 1928, at the same time as the legendary coach. Cawthon’s decision to leave coaching and spend a few years officiating local college football had an immediate impact on Price. He too would become a referee of the game he loved.

Johnny Cash, John Wayne, and the family of Bud Price… 

Keeling-to-Price yet again…

Speedster Bud Price and the Roo Track team, 1927…

Richard Nathaniel (R.N.) “Bud” Price at graduation, 1927…

Chapter 2: A High “Price” for Mistakes

Price started small, working Texas High School games. Collegiate contests soon followed. And the Southwest Conference began to pay attention. In 1934, Bud Price was asked to join the conference as a line judge. Over the next two decades, he would render his decisions during a SWC golden era. Price officiated games involving Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker, Bobby Layne, and Homer Norton’s undefeated national championship team in College Station. Among those games was the Thanksgiving Classic between UT & A&M in 1936 (see photo).

Price soon established himself as one of the league’s most reliable line judges, and was often rewarded with trips across the nation when games outside of Texas required joint or alternating officiating crews. When SWC teams traveled west, north, or east, Price was there. TCU began the 1937 season against Ohio State in the Horseshoe in front of over 70,000, and Price’s crew worked the game. Rice traveled to USC at the new L.A. Coliseum in 1947; Price was blowing his whistle in front of over 60,000. By the end of his career, Bud Price had visited most of the SEC stadiums of his day.

A 1949 newspaper article dove into detail about the difficulty of becoming a SWC official and keeping the demanding job. The article highlighted SWC veterans such as Price, who by then had been working games between Austin, Houston & Dallas for 15 years.

In the 1950s, Price decided to leave the officiating game for good. He moved to Tyler and got into the insurance business. He also began to spend more time with his alma mater, becoming President of the Alumni and Ex-Students association. Much of his time was spent enjoying East Texas football. As far as we know, he may have even watched a high school game 20 minutes north of Tyler in the 1960s. There he would have been able to watch a Roo protégé who would exceed even his lofty officiating heights.

Ohio State tops TCU in 1937 in front of nearly 70,000, at the time one of the largest crowds to ever watch a college football game. Bud Price is part of a joint Midwest-Southwest officiating crew.

Ohio State-TCU at the Horseshoe in Columbus. September 25, 1937.

Rice travels west to take on the USC Trojans in California. Bud Price again is part of a joint officiating crew.

Rice @ USC at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. October 3, 1947.

Southwest Conference officiating is tough, and the old-timers are real professionals…

 Bud Price comes home, named president of the AC alumni association in 1952…

 Chapter 3: Please Come to “Boston”

Change was coming quickly to American athletics throughout the 1960s. Integration of public institutions began to permanently alter how schools competed. Many American institutions still struggle with its legacy of race today of course. But not to the same degree. With perhaps the exception of the U.S. military, no industry has more successfully overcome the injustice of race than high school, collegiate, and professional sports. Even in East Texas.

The 2000 movie “Remember the Titans” re-tells the story of the football team of T.C. Williams High School in Virginia. The Titans team initially struggled to overcome its history of racial injustice when integration became required. But they eventually began to focus less on seeing everything as black and white, and instead focusing solely on Titan red, white, & blue (see video).

Gladewater High School lies just up the road from Tyler. It was integrated in the 1960s, and has never looked back. One of the first African Americans to break the color barrier at Gladewater was a local wide receiver named Byron Boston. At Gladewater, Boston was a star. And after graduation, he headed to Sherman to catch touchdowns for the Roos.

The 1969 Roos had one of their finest seasons ever, finishing 7-2 in independent play. The high point of the campaign was Homecoming. Texas Lutheran came to Sherman and marched their way to a 20-0 lead early in the 4th quarter. But three late TD passes gave the Roos a dramatic 21-20 victory. The last touchdown, a 12 yard pass from QB Wes Eben to Byron Boston, set off a dramatic celebration (see video). 1969 may have been a year of American racial tumult, but not at Louis Calder Stadium.

In 1969 and 1970, Eben-to-Boston was as productive as Keeling-to-Price. Boston finished his AC career in 1972 as an “All Texas College” 2nd team wide receiver, and he shared the Gene Babb award in 1972… given to the most outstanding Roo football player. By his own admission, Boston knew a professional career was not to be. But there were other ways to stay close to the game he loved.

It was Roo head coach Duane Nutt who encouraged Boston to give officiating a try after Sherman. And Boston did just that in 1973 in Dallas by calling games………for 9 year olds in Pop Warner. Boston took to it like a fish to water, and started to move up the ranks. Junior High, High School, Junior College, Southland Conference, and in 1990 the same Southwest Conference Price had called home for two decades. Boston spent nearly a decade as a referee for big time college football. Matching Bud Price’s career would have made any official proud. But Boston did that Roo one better. In 1995, he got the call to make the jump to the highest of level. A Roo became an NFL referee.

Eben-to-Boston wins it for the Roos in dramatic fashion. Thanks to AC alum and Boston teammate Keith Johnston for the original youtube video I used to make my own!  

Eben-to-Boston replaces Keeling-to-Price…


AC 21, TLU 20…

 Chapter 4: There are NO…FLAGS…ON the field!!!

Byron Boston has been an NFL line judge for 17 seasons now, and will be pacing the sidelines once again as the 2016 NFL campaign kicks off. He has officiated numerous playoff games, multiple conference championships, and two Super Bowls. But his campaign of 1999-2000 remains the most iconic. In an odd convergence of fate, the 2000 NFL playoffs brought together Boston, two NFL players, and two of his calls in a manner that decided the outcome of the season. The two most well-known plays of the 1999-2000 season involved these three individuals.

The Buffalo Bills had battled back to take a 16-15 lead against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC wildcard game in Nashville. Just 16 seconds remained as the Bills kicked off, and the Tennessee needed a miracle. They got one.

Kevin Dyson caught Frank Wycheck’s throw across the Adelphia Coliseum turf and took off untouched for the end zone in what is now referred to as the “Music City Miracle”. Final score: Tennessee 22, Buffalo 16. The Titan radio broadcast of Mike Keith is famous for the phrase “There are…NO…FLAGS…ON the field!” Of course there weren’t. The line judge is responsible for throwing a flag for an illegal forward pass. The line judge that day was Roo Byron Boston. And he kept that flag in his pocket. Because Boston ruled that Wycheck’s pass was a legal lateral (see photo). The ref got it right.

Just barely.

Not everyone was convinced at first. Bills coach Wade Phillips was certainly confident the throw was illegal. So were Mike Patrick & Paul Maguire in the NBC booth. Joe Theismann, however, was on the fence. And as they watched one replay after another, they eventually came around. Wow. The throw, somehow, someway, IS a lateral. The call on the field was correct! All of us watching in America needed multiple replays in slow motion to confirm. Boston just needed to watch it in real time once.

Instant replay confirmed the call. The Titans were jubilant. Upsets over Indianapolis and Jacksonville followed, and Tennessee was on its way to the Super Bowl.

After the wildcard game, Boston was given 3 weeks off to rest before his final game to officiate: Super Bowl 34 at the Georgia Dome between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Tennessee Titans.

The Roo throws NO…FLAGS…ON the field….

This embedded youtube video is blocked, but can be viewed when opened in a new tab…

Mike Patrick, Paul Maguire, and the rest of America eventually see what Boston saw…  

Boston discusses the Music City Miracle…

Chapter 5: One Yard Short

Kurt Warner and “The Greatest Show on Turf” were expected to win easily. But that’s why they play the games. Tennessee clawed its way back to within a touchdown and had one final drive to send the game into overtime. A dramatic third down conversion with just seconds remaining got the Titans to the 10 yard line with no timeouts and 6 seconds to play.

One final play in Super Bowl 34. One attempt to get into the end zone. Success, and the first OT Super Bowl in history. Failure, and the game is over.

The play called for Wycheck to be a decoy, luring linebacker Mike Jones towards him and away from a Kevin Dyson slant. It almost worked. Jones, however, adjusted in time. His recovery and take down of Dyson just short of the goal line won the Super Bowl for St. Louis, and has come to be known as “The Tackle”.

Unlike the Music City Miracle lateral, this call was easier. And it was Boston’s to make. The AC Roo line judge was on the goal line, and signaled Dyson short (see photo). Play over, game over, NFL season over. Over the short span of three weeks, Titan fans had experienced one Boston call of elation, and another Boston call of heartbreak. For a whole host of reasons, when we think of Byron Boston, we should definitely “Remember the Titans”.

We don’t like the zebras. Our expectations are way too high, and we have little sympathy for these humans when they inevitably fail. But deep down inside, we value them. A lot. We know that they bring order & fairness to a game that will fail in their absence. Football referees are, in a way, like the American government itself. Our frustration with our political leaders is always tempered by the understanding that the anarchy in their absence would be many times worse.

It’s a long, long road from the anarchy of the assassination of Bud Price’s grandfather in 1888 to the orderly climax of Super Bowl 34 in 2000 ushered in by Byron Boston. And it’s a road that stretches the lives of these two Roos. One from West Texas, the other from East Texas. One Anglo, the other African American. But both were Roo receivers who did Yoeman work in Sherman, and both dedicated their lives to a true and thankless passion……..bringing equity and order to the chaos of the American game that we all still love. Dianne’s and my son would be proud.

Go Roos!

One. Yard. Short.  

A more in depth look at the Wycheck-Dyson-Boston play to end Super Bowl 34…  


Help a Cowboys fan out Byron…

Here comes Belichick again…

Byron Boston, about to begin the 2016 NFL campaign…