Nightly News   |  October 09, 2011

NFL refs: 'The hotter it gets, the cooler we get'

During every football game there's a third team on the field: a group of highly skilled referees who take their jobs seriously. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight, on this football sunday, the men in stripes, games are won and lost based on how they see it. yet like the players, they can ill afford a bad game. and so after further review, we decided to take a look inside the world of nfl officials, or as some call them, the third team on the field. on any given sunday you will find this team preparing for battle, one that is both physically and mentally demanding. but when this team takes the field, winning is not their goal.

>> those teams play to win or lose. we play to be the best and the most accurate there is.

>> reporter: as the third team on the field, nfl officials are scouted just like athletes.

>> fitness is important, knowledge is important and we want folks who are passionate about the game of football.

>> reporter: about 15 years of experience is required at the high school and collegiate level before you can even apply to the national football league .

>> if you are a strong performer at the collegiate level , we would bring you into the office, interview you and make that person a finalist.

>> reporter: wayne mackey , a head linesman in his fifth nfl season, recalls the intense selection process.

>> you have to go through a psychological exam , okay, and then you, from the psychological you sit at the what i term the knights of the round table where you're sitting with all the supervisors around the table firing questions at you.

>> reporter: make no mistake, officiating in the nfl is a full time commitment.

>> everybody will tell you the same thing. they think we just show up, roll out of bed in the morning, officiate and go back home. they don't have any idea what the work we put in from sunday from doing the game and studying and film review all during the week.

>> reporter: nfl officials put in anywhere between 40 to 80 hours a week, all this while juggling other week day jobs. the roster includes lawyers, bankers, principals and administrators.

>> director of operations at the new york city housing preservation and development. there is many a time i've gotten off the plane and went straight to work.

>> reporter: on game day , mackey 's team needs to go over their own game plan .

>> the current time is 6: 02:30 .

>> reporter: then five minutes before kickoff, those men in stripes take the field. keeping cool is a prerequisite.

>> we have a motto that we use as officials, the hotter it gets, the cooler we get.

>> reporter: each week, officials are graded by supervisors for the calls they did and didn't make.

>> the grading system is a performance based system. and it is how we determine who works in the playoffs and eventually who gets the big prize of the super bowl .

>> reporter: mackey is not eligible for the super bowl yet, but one of the keys to his success so far has been his leadership on and off the field.

>> the most fulfilling part of my job is the camaraderie that i have with my fellow officials.