Al Riveron Nfl Crew Assignments

NEW YORK (AP) — Alberto Riveron has a difficult challenge, and he’s taking it on at a pivotal time in the NFL.

Riveron has stepped in this year as the league’s chief of officiating, replacing Dean Blandino, who joined his predecessor, Mike Pereira, as an analyst at Fox. Both Blandino and Pereira have been lauded for their skills in communicating and explaining officiating calls, something they carried into television from their positions at the NFL.

Riveron plans to continue the transparency — Blandino was a regular on Monday talk shows and on social media, breaking down plays from the previous day — as he directs a staff that now will include 21 full-time officials. He worked as Blandino’s main assistant before moving up, so the adjustment hasn’t been overwhelming in any way.

But there are differences.

“I was not as in tune with internal workings like I am now,” the 57-year-old Riveron says. “I was involved in the officiating, the evaluating and the developing of the officiating program. I now basically overlook the entire department. That means working with other departments like broadcasting, marketing, strategy, a lot more than I was before. My job and my goal is to be consistent and to get it right.”

Fans often believe game officials get it wrong too often, though Troy Vincent, who runs the league’s football operations, cites the extremely high percentage of correct calls. Vincent is emphatic when describing a smooth transition for Riveron.

“Al has always been in AMGC (Art McNally GameDay Central, where video reviews are made) the past four to five years,” Vincent explains. “Al and Dean were the ones in AMGC making the calls, collaborating with the referees and those they had been handling with stadium instant replay, and dealing with the (TV) trucks over the last three to four years. We look at succession planning all the time, seeing is there a better setup?”

The new setup also has Russell Yurk and Wayne Mackie assisting Riveron.

“Russell, not just Dean, was someone who was always part of the implementation of our instant replay policies and rules,” Vincent adds. “Now actually having him in-house, we just upgraded in that particular role. Now, he’s inside of AMGC; he was based in Arizona before.

“Having Wayne coming off the field — one of our better officials — now leading our efforts on development and identification, there’s a better team approach.”

Riveron, who was born in Cuba and moved to the United States with his family at age 5, takes over just when New York headquarters will make the final decisions on replay reviews, in consultation with the referee at each stadium. Those refs will be using Microsoft Surface tablets for reviews rather than going “under the hood” as part of the NFL’s emphasis on eliminating dead time in games.

“We want to make the game more enjoyable for not only our fans in the stadium, but also for our viewers at home,” Riveron says. “We are in the entertainment business, and we want to make sure that we come out with the best possible product. From the officiating side, there are certain things that we can do without giving up the consistency and efficiency of what we do of moving the game along.”

Such as a 40-second clock now in use after a score or a PAT when TV doesn’t go to a break.

“It consistently moves the game along and tells everybody what is next,” he says. “There’s not that lull period in between where we are guessing what’s next and what’s coming. All 17 crews are doing it the same way.”

There also are a bunch of points of emphasis and rules changes to oversee. Most notable is eliminating the “jumper” on extra points — no more hurdling linemen in an attempt to block the kick. There’s added protection for a receiver while running a route, elimination of a specific crack-back block, and a continuation of kicking off from the 35-yard line while bringing touchbacks out to the 25.

Then there is the full-time officials plan, which Riveron says won’t necessarily lead to eight-man NFL crews, though the NCAA has gone that route.

“What we want at the end of the day is consistency,” Riveron says. “The better we can get our message out to the crews, the better off we all are. What I see is bringing the officials into the office during the week. They are full-time, so their first responsibility is to us. We are going to have officials from each of the seven positions, we are going to have a cross-section of officials from all of the crews that will be coming into the office to help us put video together and identify videos. They will help us with the evaluation process of our officiating developmental staff, and also help us with selecting certain plays of interest that we could use mechanically to get better and more consistent.

“How can we be consistent and do it the same way in Miami at 1 o’clock and at Seattle at 1 o’clock on Sunday afternoon?”

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“I’m afraid something will happen to him,” she said. “Someone will push him and hurt him.”

The N.F.L. calls Riveron a trailblazer (Johnny Grier became the league’s first African-American referee in 1988). But Hispanics, the nation’s largest ethnic minority, go back a long way in professional football. Tom Flores became professional football’s first Hispanic starting quarterback in 1960, for the Oakland Raiders, and Tom Fears the N.F.L.’s first Hispanic head coach in 1967, for the New Orleans Saints.

Still, the N.F.L.’s marketing arm has had difficulty winning over Hispanic fans, particularly in households where Spanish is predominantly spoken — like the one in which Riveron was raised. There are only two dozen Hispanic players in the league, and Riveron is the only Hispanic among its 120 officials.

“He’s got a responsibility ahead of him,” Mike Pereira, the league’s vice president for officiating, said of Riveron. “I’m going to work with him and others about recruiting more Hispanic officials. We’re constantly trying to diversify our staff. It’s the makeup of our country.”

Riveron, with thick arms and a few specks of gray in his dark hair, is married with two teenage sons. He sees his promotion less symbolically. He began officiating in youth games as a second job in 1977, when he attended a clinic for youth football officials. Besides, he hardly feels like a minority in Miami, a predominantly Hispanic city with a Cuban soul.

But his wife, Patricia, said he was privately proud of his distinction. It is telling that, while most friends call him Al, Riveron the referee wants to be known as Alberto.

“It is pretty neat, because of where I came from,” Riveron said over lunch at La Carreta, a bustling Cuban restaurant where men crowd an outside counter, engaged in lively discussions in Spanish while sipping from tiny cups of café Cubano.

Valdes and Riveron were among the roughly quarter of a million Cubans who arrived in the United States on freedom flights, sanctioned by the governments of both countries in the 1960s and early 1970s. Riveron’s father, also named Alberto, Valdes’s former husband, immigrated three years earlier. He now lives on the same block of well-kept ranch houses as his son, daughter-in-law and grandsons.

“I was afraid to get on the airplane, but I had to do it,” Valdes said. She called it, in retrospect, “a perfect decision.”

On Tuesday, she and her son traded stories of building lives together in a new country. They talked about hours spent sitting around the radio, and the excitement of getting a black-and-white television that barely worked. When Riveron was 10, he came home from school one day to find his mother had a surprise. He heard ringing. It was their first telephone.

“Now my kids both have cellphones,” Riveron said, another reminder of how times have changed for him.

He began officiating college games in 1990 and spent 15 seasons mostly in the Big East and Conference USA.

“He had the look and presence of a referee,” Pereira said.

The N.F.L. hired Riveron as a side judge in 2004. He worked under the referee Ed Hochuli for two seasons, then under Gerald Austin, whose retirement opened a spot for Riveron last spring.

N.F.L. officials are part-time employees, earning $2,500 to $8,400 a game, depending on their roles and years of service, Pereira said. As a referee and crew chief, Riveron works 35 to 40 hours each week in addition to his full-time job, selling hurricane shutters for Florida Storm Panels.

“If I’m meeting a Cuban customer, I’m going to wear a guayabera,” Riveron said, referring to the formal white linen shirt, usually with pockets and pleats, popular in tropical climates. “And I bring along Cuban pastries and a shot of coffee.”

He was not dressed that way last Tuesday.

“This morning, I was at a construction site,” he said. “I wear jeans, a polo shirt, tennis shoes. But I still bring the Cuban pastries.”

Riveron’s home office, the one room Patricia allowed him to decorate, is a giant scrapbook to his family and to officiating. One wall is crowded with family photographs. A bookcase holds footballs from various officiating milestones: first college game, first bowl game, first N.F.L. game.

Riveron often sits in a leather chair behind a large desk, remote control in hand, studying game films and calls on his television. In a typical week, he returns home late Sunday or early Monday with a DVD of the broadcast of the game he officiated. On Monday and Tuesday, he trades calls and e-mail messages with other crew members to discuss erroneous or missed calls.

He anxiously awaits the report from an officiating supervisor analyzing every aspect of the crew’s performance, which arrives about 6 p.m. on Tuesday in an e-mail message. The crew discusses it on a conference call, and Riveron responds to the supervisor in writing.

“Then we hold our breath,” Riveron said.

Final grades from the game are issued on Wednesday, part of a season-long assessment to determine which crews will work the playoffs. Riveron, who has officiated in the postseason three times as a side judge, is not eligible this season because he is a rookie referee.

The weekly routine for officials includes training tapes and an exam issued by the N.F.L. The travel prevents him from spending any weekends with the family. This weekend, Riveron and his crew will meet in San Francisco, where the 49ers play the St. Louis Rams.

Riveron spends spare hours, usually late at night, watching himself on a DVD, often falling asleep in his chair. He studies his positioning on the field and rehearses his announcements.

“We’re the only sport where the game stops for an official to talk to you,” Riveron said. “You turn on your microphone and tell 50 million people what you decided, and why.”

Recently, for the first time, a stranger recognized him as an N.F.L. referee, he said.

On the wall behind the desk chair is a map of Cuba — Riveron and his mother have never returned. There is Cuban currency, framed, and other personal mementos of a country Riveron says he does not really remember.

Before a preseason game this summer, the broadcaster Al Michaels asked Riveron what he preferred to be called on the air.

“I asked him to call me Alberto,” Riveron said. “And I said: ‘Make sure you roll that r. You’ll make my mom very happy.’ ”

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