That first step, getting good reviews, is undoubtedly the toughest hurdle to overcome. In such a high-profile sport, covered so closely by the media and dissected so thoroughly by fans, NFL officials are under a constant, unrelenting microscope. Errors — with that much scrutiny, some always pop up in the postseason — can be career-ending and league-shaking.
Nobody, though, looks at NFL officials — for the record, the term "referee" applies only to the highest-profile football official; the others are the umpire, line judge, down judge, field judge, side judge and back judge — more closely than the league itself.
A group of official supervisors reviews every play of every NFL game — almost 40,000 plays in 2017 — and grades every one of the 124 NFL officials on each play. The reviewers judge the officials not only on what calls they make, but also on those that they miss. The reviewers also look at whether the officials did their jobs in the right way; whether each was in the proper place at the proper time looking at the proper part of the play (officials all have specific responsibilities on each play).
A typical official, the NFL says, is evaluated on the basis of some 2,100 plays over the course of a regular season.
"They may look at some routine play ... 20 times. If there's something a little more involved, it may be more. So it's a very meticulous review of every single play and every [camera] feed," Austro says. "You get a mark down if they see something wrong, a minus-one, and if they agree, it's a plus-one. The pluses and minuses are all tallied up."
At the end of the year, the officials are stuck into three tiers. Those in the bottom third are in danger of losing their jobs. The middle tier is generally safe. The top tier, where the best of the best reside and the difference between those in the striped shirts is razor-thin, is where the league gets its postseason and Super Bowl officials.
But, yes, even the best of the best make mistakes.
Overall, despite weekly fan outcry over controversies — Was his knee down? Did he bobble the catch? Was that pass interference? Did he cross the goal line? — NFL officials are as close to perfect as anyone can reasonably expect.
"Generally, although they never came out with an exact number, it's generally believed to be better than 98 percent or above in accuracy rating," Austro says, "which is phenomenal when you compare it to anything else in sports."