Grey Cup will be Winnipeg ref Glen Johnson’s 400th CFL game
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
|The Grey Cup game on Sunday will mark the 400th time referee Glen Johnson's has worn stripes for the CFL. (K. RODRIGUEZ/CFL photo)
He’s watching film all week, dissecting plays and formations to prepare for the biggest football game of his career.
Yet when Sunday’s Grey Cup rolls around, he hopes nobody even notices him.
If you’re into milestones, Glen Johnson is your man this weekend.
That the Winnipeg product will be refereeing the 400th CFL game of his career is cool enough.
That it’s also his 10th Grey Cup, and the 100th, overall, is a fluke the 51-year-old didn’t see coming.
“It kind of snuck up on me,” Johnson said in an interview from his Toronto office, Thursday. “It’s really odd that it’s actually my 400th game. I understand the historical implication of it. So I’m not taking this lightly in any way.”
Johnson is in his 23rd season as a CFL official, but this journey began when he was a 10-year-old playing hockey in East Kildonan.
That’s about the time his dad, Gord, began officiating pro football.
“It was kind of a cool thing at school with my friends,” Johnson said. “I just got into officiating to make a little extra cash as a kid. It wasn’t like there was a grand scheme or plan to follow my dad or anything.”
This weekend the cleat will be on the other foot, as Johnson’s dad, an official from 1970 to 1985, follows the kid to Toronto.
“We talk before almost every game,” the younger Johnson said. “I get a lot of feedback from him, still. I’m very lucky that he’s alive, healthy and still supports it.”
Then there’s mom, the ref-basher in the family.
“She’s still my biggest fan — and my biggest critic,” Johnson said, chuckling. “She’ll call me after the game and go, ‘Now what happened on that call?’ Mom’s the one... dad’s a little more supportive, because he’s been in my shoes.”
More often than not, the guys wearing those shoes are getting the gears. If you haven’t yelled at a ref, you’re not a football fan.
The No. 2 question Johnson gets, after how he got into reffing, is why the heck he sticks with it.
“You know you’re going out there and getting yelled at,” he said. “I do it because it’s a great opportunity to test myself every game. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Players are incredibly professional. (And) coaches. Generally, it’s not a bad experience.”
The recent NFL officials lockout might have done more for the game’s stripes than any P.R. campaign could.
“What it highlighted is how much work and preparation we have to put into it to be as good as we can be,” Johnson said. “It’s like taking someone in your profession and all of a sudden saying, ‘Can you go and write a Pulitzer Prize-winning play this weekend?’ All of a sudden you have to go to the top of your game. And I felt for the guys who were put there.”
Johnson, who works full-time as a software developer in Toronto, was put here because he’s at the top of his game.
CFL officials are graded all season, and the best work the biggest game.
Johnson’s work week actually began with film sessions, Thursday.
“Some people think we just sort of show up at the stadium, throw our cleats on and jump out there,” he said. “Every week it’s days and days of preparation.
“When I started we would get an old VHS tape recorded on a bad TV shipped to us by courier every couple of weeks, saying ‘Here are some plays to look at.’ Now within 24 or 48 hours after a game the whole game’s up on a digital web site for us, and we can go review play by play with two different angles and look at how we did and our positioning.”
Games are the big test, none bigger than Sunday’s.
“I still get butterflies in the pit of my stomach,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a great one. I’m really excited about it.”
His perfect game: a thriller in which his crew makes all the right calls and “stays out of the way.”
“That’s what I hope for,” he said. “No talk about us.”