August 31, 2012 10:18:02 AM
Stan Murray spoke Thursday at the weekly meeting of The Exchange Club of Columbus.
At 59, he maintains the lean, athletic build of the college athlete he once was -- he played football at Mississippi State in the early 1970s. He is a handsome man, with the sort of salt-and-pepper hair that you expect to see from one of those "Just For Men'' commercials. During his 35 years in Columbus, he has enjoyed a successful professional career as a banker.
Murray is quick-witted, warm and thoughtful, and as I listened to him speak, I was oddly reminded of someone I had only read about.
If it is not too fanciful -- and if it is I know you will forgive me -- I would compare Murray to the Apostle Paul.
Bible scholars will tell you that Paul was "the whole package'' -- the right pedigree, the right education, a man among men. It was so obvious that even Paul himself could not deny it.
He had all the ingredients required to make him utterly insufferable. That is why Paul theorized that he had been given a "thorn in the flesh.'' It kept him humble.
In much the same fashion, Murray has all the requisite qualities that might lead to arrogance. Like Paul, he has a thorn in the flesh.
He is a college football official. And that keeps him humble.
"I will always remember one game back about 30 years ago when I was still working high-school games,'' Murray told his audience Thursday. "It was a playoff game at Weir, I think. Anyway, we're on the field before the game and the invocation comes over the loudspeaker. It was a long invocation, but I'll always remember that the man prayed that 'we will treat the opponents as guests and treat the referees as guests, too. Help us remember that the referees are human just like us, and that all of us make mistakes.'"
On Saturday, Murray and his crew will be in Gainesville, Fla., to officiate the University of Florida vs. Bowling Green University, a game that will mark the start of his 27th year as a college football official and 33rd year overall (He officiated high school football before making the big jump to the college ranks.).
That's a pretty long tenure, especially when you consider that Murray serves as the back judge. The back judge's primary responsibility is the passing game. On pass plays, he watches the receivers and defensive backs and makes most of the illegal contact and interference calls. On running plays, he watches for illegal blocks and other open-field infractions.
What that means is that the back judge has to run farther and faster than any of the other officials. In fact, the cardinal rule for the back judge is much the same as it is for defensive backs -- never let anyone get behind you. When you consider that the college game is evolving more and more into a passing game and that today's receivers are often world-class sprinters, it's a testament to Murray's conditioning that he can keep up. He is pushing 60, after all.
Understandably, he is probably the only man in Columbus who enjoys those long TV timeouts that are now common in college football.
"Having that extra time doesn't hurt any," he humbly admits.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.