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In his 1999 account of his career as an NFL referee, Jerry Markbreit described how as a first-year official he got into the habit of attending Catholic mass. The head of his officiating crew, Tommy Bell, caught him off guard when he "broached a subject that was to affect me deeply as a person and forever alter my professional routine. He said, 'Jerry, I know you're Jewish, but this crew goes to Catholic church before every game. I'm a Baptist and I've been going for the last fifteen years. We think of it as something that draws us together. But you're certainly not obligated to go. Everyone will understand.' I had no idea how to react. I said, "Does everybody go?" He said, 'Yes.' 'Well, I'm going, too.' When we parted, I thought, 'Are you crazy, Jerry?'

"The next morning, when we arrived at church, I felt very awkward. I'd never been in one before. I walked inside, and boy, I had this terrible, almost sacrilegious feeling that maybe the walls would topple down on me for being there. We sat together in the pew and, when the Mass started, they all kneeled on the kneeling boards. I was afraid to do it. I just sat there thinking: 'Is this what it takes to be an NFL official? I can't do this. Why am I here?' Then I realized that not everybody on the crew was Catholic, but they were here, so it must be okay. I decided I would just say my own prayers, like in temple, and God would certainly understand. Even though I was in a Catholic church, I was praying Jewish."

"After the service, as we filed to the doors, the Catholic members dipped their fingers in the holy water and made little signs of the cross on their foreheads. I thought: 'What do I do? Should I make the sign of the Jewish star? Then (another member of our crew) came over.....and said, 'We know that you're Jewish, but this has nothing to do with religion. This is togetherness. We've been doing this for years, and we're very proud that you would do it with us.'

"I had attended church with them because I wanted to fit in. I didn't want these guys to feel burdened with a rookie. I wanted them to be happy that the league put me on their crew....I didn't want to be the nebechel little shlepperdik who comes on a crew and doesn't know his tochis from a hole in the ground."

From Last Call: Memoirs of an NFL Referee, by Jerry Markbreit, published by Sports Publishing Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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