Originally created 04/23/98

Official fulfilling a dream



During fall weekdays, Keven Mack is a mild-mannered Augusta/Richmond County director of housing and neighborhood development.

On the weekend, he jets around the country and dons the zebra colors with No. 102 on his back.

Mack, a Laney High and Fort Valley State graduate, worked his first season as an official in the NFL during the fall of 1997 and currently is officiating games in the summer NFL Europe league.

This fall will mark his second season in the NFL. As a rookie, he was ineligible to work playoff games. Also, officials cannot talk with the press during the season about their duties.

"You look at TV when you're a young man and you dream about playing in the NFL," Mack said. "But I was injured in the 10th grade and playing football wasn't for me."

Mack started officiating football games when he was in the 10th grade at Laney. He would officiate the elementary football games on the field behind C.T. Walker Elementary School. At Fort Valley State, he played baseball and basketball before graduating with a business administration degree in 1973.

The 47-year-old Mack officiated in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference from 1978-88 and the Atlantic Coast Conference from 1989-96 before he became an NFL official. Mack first applied for an NFL job in 1993.

"There are only four ways that you can become an NFL official," Mack said. "One, is if somebody dies. Two, if somebody retires. Three, if the league expands. And four, somebody quits or resigns. I think that's how I got in, somebody quit or resigned. It does happen because people can't handle the scrutiny the NFL puts you under."

The prerequisite for hiring includes a background investigation by the NFL security department; four to five hours with a clinical psychologist to make sure the candidate has the intellectual capability and can perform under stressful conditions; and interviews with eight league panelist supervisors. They also have to be at a "desirable weight" for their height. The 192-pound Mack fits inside the 196-pound limit for his 6-foot-1 frame.

Last year, Mack worked 20 NFL games -- four exhibitions and 16 regular-season games.

One of the games he did was Green Bay against Philadelphia. One of the Eagles' tight ends is Jimmie Johnson, a former Josey standout.

Mack didn't know that Johnson played for the Eagles. The two of them used to run together in the summertime in Augusta. Mack officiated Garrison Hearst's games' when he was a prep standout at Lincoln County.

"Jimmie (Johnson) is the only one I really know," said Mack of the NFL players. "I don't get caught up in names when I'm out there."

Mack still jokes with Johnson about an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he called in a Howard-Morehouse game. Johnson, who was a standout at Howard, thought he had reached the end zone for a touchdown, but Mack said he had stepped out of bounds.

Johnson argued with Mack and then casually flipped the ball in the air and Mack threw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on him.

"I still remind him of that," Mack said. "I'll ask him if he feels like flipping a ball up in the air today."

Johnson said he knows most of the officials in the NFL from the games, but Mack is the only one he knows on a personal level. Johnson, who is at Philadelphia's mini-camp this week, will be entering his 10th season in the NFL in the fall.

"Oh, yeah, I know Mr. Mack," Johnson said. "He did a couple of our exhibition games and our (10-9 win) game against Green Bay. It gets as personal as it can get between (player and official). I try not to think about it during a game."

On a typical weekend, Mack takes an early flight out of Augusta on Saturday morning to the NFL city where he will be officiating that weekend. By 2 p.m., Saturday, the officiating crew begins a four-hour review of three tapes from the previous weekend.

On Sunday, Mack usually attends an 8 a.m. church service and arrives at the stadium by 10 a.m. -- the mandatory three hours before a 1 p.m. kickoff.

Mack mans the back judge position, where he is stationed in the secondary and probably has to make the most difficult call in the game -- pass interference.

Officials also must keep a penalty log of the game. That's what they're recording in a small notebook as the game progresses. Mack writes down the penalty, the offending player's number and offense, when it occurred and whether the infraction was accepted.

At the end of the game, the head official mails the list of penalties to the NFL Office.

The life of an NFL official is the most normal among the three professional leagues. Because of their rigorous schedules, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball officials must be full-time employees of their leagues, while NFL officials can moonlight from their regular jobs.

Mack will not reveal his salary, but NFL officials with less than five years' experience usually make approximately $1,000 a game. Veteran NFL officials can make as much as $4,000 a game ($9,000 for playoff games).

Still, like the players, their biggest thrill is the limelight of nationally televised games, particularly Sunday night and Monday night prime-time contests.

"Everybody's eyes light up -- players and officials -- when the game is on Monday Night Football," Mack said. "You know the whole country is watching."

Mack will officiate four games in NFL Europe this summer, including upcoming trips to Amsterdam and Scotland. NFL Europe, considered a Class AAA league for the NFL, offers a chance for Mack to sharpen his skills. This is his third year working in NFL Europe, formerly the World League. NFL officials and those from major college conferences looking to move up to the pro ranks usually work these games.

The "offseason" workout is fuel for the biggest prizes. Officials who grade out the highest during the NFL regular season are picked for the playoff games.

"There is an old saying," Mack said. "The more you practice and the harder you work, the luckier you get."