Shaw referees sixth BCS bowl game

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It’s common to think a questionable call or penalty may change the outcome of a football game, but North Shelby resident and Southeastern Conference referee Steve Shaw enjoys when that’s not the case.

“Our best game is when it’s very calm, and you don’t see a lot of us,” said Shaw after officiating the 95th annual Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

One of the main plays that stuck out that game is it when Southern California safety Taylor Mays, all 6 feet 3 inches and 235 pounds of him, clocked Penn State wide receiver Jordan Norwood and one of his own teammates in the third quarter.

The play resulted in a 15-yard personal foul against the USC Trojans for the helmet-to-helmet hit and a first down for Penn State.

“It was a good call, but maybe not so popular at the time,” said Shaw, who led the Rose Bowl officiating crew.

It was Shaw’s second trip to Pasadena, Calif. for a Rose Bowl after working the 2003 game between Oklahoma and Washington State.

“As I told my wife (Jamelle), it was the trip of a lifetime that we got to do twice,” Shaw said. “It’s a terrific honor. It’s ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’ and they do it right. All the trimmings around it make it a fabulous game to work.”

This was Shaw’s sixth Bowl Championship Series game to officiate, but the defining moment of the trip was not the helmet-to-helmet call. It was the coin toss with 82-year-old actress Cloris Leachman, most recently recognized for her appearance on “Dancing With the Stars.”

“She is still pretty spry and in some ways a very loose cannon,” Shaw said.

The Rose Bowl Committee knew that and so did the California and national media, who had already reported stories about the potential “unexpected” from Leachman.

Shaw was put in charge of keeping her under control.

Shaw and umpire Wally Hough, who once played on the University of Florida defensive line, met with Leachman. As the pair entered the room, Huff gave Leachman a big one-armed, stiff bear hug as Shaw had instructed. Still in Huff’s grip, Leachman was told that if anyone got out of line, Huff was handling security at the toss. There was no trouble the next day.

But despite the meeting, running over the idea of the coin toss late Dec. 31 is what stirred Shaw’s pre-game nerves this go-round. It’s something different each game, but the nerves usually comes in his final prep work he said.

“You’re never going to lose that excitement and the challenge of working a game like that,” Shaw said. “They say when you kind of lose that butterfly feeling before a game, it’s time to retire. Every week we still get that excitement of the game and that butterfly feeling in the stomach. It builds a little more at the Rose Bowl.”

Retirement is nowhere in the plans for the 49-year-old who once wanted to be a coach. He works his day job serving over a nine-state area as General Manger of AT&T Connected Community.

Refereeing became a way to stay connected to the game he once wanted to coach. It began by calling high school games in 1981 and moved into the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference in the early ’90s. The call to the SEC came in 1996.

Since then, Shaw says some of his best memories have come from the season opening game between Tennessee and Syracuse in 1998 as UT went on to win the national title, his first national title game in 2000 at the Sugar Bowl between Florida State and Virginia Tech and his next national title game in the 2005 Orange Bowl between USC and Oklahoma.

But to Shaw serving on the big stage during bowl week is no different than every week of the regular season for him.

“Every week in the SEC’s a big week. If you don’t believe it, just mess it up and you’ll find out,” Shaw said.