Lee Benson, Deseret News
HENEFER, Summit County — When the crowd rises to its feet this Wednesday night, shouting at top volume, every pair of eyes looking straight at him, you'll have to pardon Doug Toole if he acts oblivious to all the commotion, or, worse, penalizes everyone in the room 15 yards for excessive celebration.
Old habits die hard, and when you've spent your entire adult life doing your best to block out the crowd, it's not easy to change.
Even when it's you they're putting in the Hall of Fame.
Toole is part of the Class of 2011 that will be inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame at EnergySolutions Arena. He joins a lineup that includes recently retired Jazz coaches Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson, former University of Utah softball standout Annette Ausseresses and Natalie Williams, the basketball phenom who among other exploits won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics.
All Toole did is make it to the Super Bowl.
And nobody noticed.
Which, for a guy who wears a striped shirt for a living, is the supreme compliment.
For 19 seasons, from 1988 through 2006, Toole was an official in the National Football League. He worked almost exclusively as a side judge – the ref who decides whether pass interference or other infractions of mayhem are committed downfield.
He worked a regular season game every week and over the years also officiated in 18 playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXII in 1998 and Super Bowl XXXV in 2001.
He's the first and so far only Utahn to ever officiate football's biggest game.
Like every athlete when it's over, Toole marvels at how fast it all came and went.
It seems like just yesterday that he was growing up in Coalville, dreaming of one day playing in the pros.
He was an all-around athlete, competing in football, basketball and baseball at North Summit High School, and when he enrolled in college at Utah State, he majored in physical education.
While he was a student he officiated junior high football and basketball games not as part of a well-orchestrated career plan, but because they paid $5 a game.
He was surprised to discover how much he enjoyed officiating.
"It wasn't an authority thing with me, or a rules thing, either," Toole says. "I just liked being in the middle of the game."
After graduating from Utah State, he moved on to Stanford University, where he earned an advanced degree in physical therapy, the profession that would be his life's main avocation.
But he kept returning to refereeing, finding it to be the ideal side job as well as a way to keep fit and involved in sports.
He officiated high school football and basketball until 1971, when he worked his first college football game between Weber State and Idaho. That led to a relationship with the Big Sky Conference that continues to this day. Currently he is coordinator of football officials for the league.
He worked his first National Football League game in 1988. He was paid $675 for the game, plus travel and per diem.
Contrast that to what he was paid in his final year of 2006: $7,200 per game, plus travel and per diem.
As Toole's officiating career boomed, the NFL boomed right along with it.
When he retired from the NFL, he and his late wife Saundra built a beautiful home in Henefer, just down the road from his hometown of Coalville. It's the House The NFL Built.
Once the home was finished, one of the first things Toole hung on the wall was a plaque from the 1998 Super Bowl.
It remains the greatest game he ever called. In football lore, it's known as the Elway Bowl, when Denver quarterback John Elway finally got the Super Bowl monkey off his and the Broncos' back.
In Toole lore, it's the game that stamped him as the best of the best.
"When you go to the Super Bowl it means you're the No. 1 rated official at that position," he says. "For that night, you're the best at your position in the world."
He never did get tired of officiating at the sport's highest level, he'll tell you – "It's a real adrenaline rush," he says, "the speed is unreal."
And he never let the crowd get to him.
"You hear a lot of noise," he says. "Some of it's clever. One guy told me if I had one more eye I'd be a Cyclops. But most of it's crude and rude. You just learn to tune it out and do your job and leave. And if nobody remembers you were there, then that's it, you've accomplished what you came for."
Except when they put you in the Hall of Fame. Then just the opposite applies.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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