Millen: No Tackles While Officiating

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The rule of thumb for judging an official's performances is: He's done his job well if you don't know he's there.

By that standard, former linebacker and current Fox Sports commentator Matt Millen failed miserably in his quarter-plus as an NFL umpire. It was through no fault of his own, however.

Fox's announcers for Tampa Bay's 31-21 victory at New England, John Madden and Pat Summerall, spent more time analyzing Millen's performance than anything else going on in the game while he was on the field.

Madden frequently used the telestrator to draw yellow circles around Millen — just in case viewers couldn't find the oversized umpire.

``He looks like he's going to hit something,'' Madden said.

Joked Summerall: ``You think there's any danger Matt will like this so much that he won't come back?''

Millen certainly looked like he was having fun lining up about 5 yards off the line of scrimmage, with the linebackers. He focused intently on the line of scrimmage, dodged blockers and hopped around right in the thick of things.

``That was a great, great experience. It will give me a lot better insight when I call a game,'' said Millen, who won four Super Bowls as a member of the Raiders, Redskins and 49ers before retiring in 1992.

That insight should benefit viewers, allowing Millen to speak more authoritatively the next time he praises or derides an official.

His work on the field in the third quarter and for the first five minutes of the fourth was the latest in a series of attempts by the NFL and its broadcasters to boost interest and ratings.

The ``UmpCam'' that Millen wore is one example. Others include ABC putting comedian Dennis Miller in the ``Monday Night Football'' booth, CBS moving its pregame show to a glass-walled studio in midtown Manhattan, and the league adding more doubleheader Sundays to the TV schedule.

The good news in Foxboro, for all concerned, was that Millen resisted any back-of-the-brain temptation to tackle anyone or bark out defensive signals. Millen, who can be quite critical of officials when he is in the broadcast booth, threw his flag only once — a halfhearted toss on a motion penalty that other officials also flagged.

``Now I have a better appreciation for how tough the job is, how fast it goes, the amount of concentration needed to know what your reads are,'' Millen said. ``I have a better understanding of why a penalty is called. A couple of times I pulled my flag halfway out and shoved it back in. I would see a hold, but then you have to know where the ball is. If it's away from the play, you have to let it go.''

He occasionally nudged a defender out of his way, but seemed to be where he should be on each play. On a fumbled punt return with 7:12 left in the third quarter, Millen aggressively went through the pile of players to try to determine who recovered the loose ball.

The microphone he was wearing picked up Millen saying, ``Right there, easy boys. Right there, we got it, we got it. Piece of cake.''

Millen, still in uniform, went into the broadcast booth when he left the game, and graded his performance an A-plus.

Later, he gave himself a mixed review.

``The mechanics of officiating weren't all there,'' he said. ``A couple of times, I just got messed up in terms of which side the ball comes in from. In terms of the physical part of it, that was a piece of cake.

``I felt like it was 10 years ago.''