Ehrlich doesn't earn his stripes


Editor's note: Carl Ehrlich, who was the captain of the 2009 Harvard football team, is in Spain to play football. He'll chronicle his experiences on and off the field for ESPNBoston.com. Today we learn about him trying a new vocation.

Despite the fact that Saturday's match was played between the Junior Firebats (a group of 13- to 18-year-olds) and the Firebat Rookies (first-year players on the senior team), the true amateurs were blowing the whistles. You've never seen such a sad crew of officials in your life.

The side judge kept the game clock on his iPhone. The same iPhone he used to browse the Internet. During the plays.

The back judge/field judge/umpire hobbled around the field on a sprained ankle and "saved time" by throwing the ball to an offensive player for the spot on third and short. Without a chain gang for measurements, I watched as he took a knee and closed one eye to "eye up" the first-down marker.

And the referee wasn't any better. Not once or twice, but three times, he was directly in the way of the quarterback rolling out for a bootleg.

On top of this, none of the referees had whistles. Instead, they ended plays with a cluster of whistling that sounded like a set of half-empty soda bottles on a windy day. The bottles might have called a better game too. What respectable official spots the ball by kicking it along the ground?

After forgetting which down it was three times, calling two penalties that simply do not exist in American football, and an "official timeout" to search for Wi-Fi, the coaches of both teams had had enough.

"Carl! Pay attention!"

OK, so I wasn't born to be a referee.

What I do think I was born to do, is play quarterback. I almost had my chance on Saturday.

Gathering the "Rookies" together for a team warm-up an hour before the game, I made a quick mental roster. A full set of receivers. Defensive backs. Linebackers. Grab an offensive lineman and we've got ourselves a fullback. An extra defensive lineman becomes the running back and we're all set. The only problem? Our quarterback is MIA.

After throwing a few warm-up passes to our receivers, I got more and more comfortable with the idea of taking snaps under center. This was my shot. Being neither a junior nor a rookie, I hadn't planned on playing, but my pads were in the locker room.

Dreaming of quarterbacking excellence, I ran back to the building to get ready. I was Brady when Bledsoe went down. Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off the bench to beat the Texans. Pump fakes to make the safeties bite. Check downs to my running back. Changing plays at the line of scrimmage. I could already feel my offensive line lift me onto their shoulders. (OK, so maybe I would have to lift them, but it's my sports fantasy, all right?)

My dreams of quarterback heroics were just as quickly crushed as I jogged out into the hallway and bumped into our starting quarterback. More than two hours late and in no visible hurry, he stopped to have a good full laugh at the idea of me taking his spot.

Quarterbacks. Never trust 'em.

Coming back down to earth, I changed out of my pads and (figuratively) put the whistle back on.

What I missed in calls during the game I made up for in observations, the main one being this; Spanish people are very competitive.

Three senior Firebats skippered the junior team, but watching them coach against their teammates, you would've thought them mortal enemies. Arguing across the field about anything from late hits to illegal cut-blocks, things were less than civil. Some of my bar vocabulary lessons were starting to pay off.

The most competitive of the players may have been Tachu, a starting receiver and defensive back for the senior team. After two receiving touchdowns, an interception returned for a touchdown and a hit on the quarterback that I felt from across the field, the referees "removed" him from the game.

At halftime he was moved to the junior team so he could pick on someone his own size.

And there were some size differences. Diego, a 14-year-old lineman, spent his day lined up against Tatan, an offensive lineman literally twice his size. With facial hair running through the chin strap of his XXL helmet, Tatan clearly wasn't Diego's classmate.

Standing next to each other, the two looked like Russian nesting dolls four sizes apart.

Because of the size difference, there were more injuries than normal, and we officials made the executive decision to run the clock a little faster. Embodying the Spanish competitive spirit and ignoring his team's 30-point lead, Tatan was furious when I blew the final "whistle" and wouldn't speak to me.

But, I reminded him, it was only a scrimmage and our season resumed with a home game next Saturday.

Let's hope we have better officials.