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When Rocky Goode was a football player at Bearden High and the University of Tennessee, he tried hard to inspire cheers.
But in his football-related work since then, he has simply strived to avoid boos.
The reason is that he has been a football official at various levels since 1975 and always tries to make the right and fair calls to avoid the ire of the fans.
Of course, sometimes the fans are angry even when the right calls are made, making his job quite difficult. This is especially true in the high-profile SEC, where he has served as an official for more than two decades.
"It's kind of like going to work naked," he said with a laugh. "Everything you do is on video and everything you say is on audio."
On Aug. 23, however, he will get a rare opportunity to receive some cheers when he is inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame for his officiating career.
"I'm honored," he said during an interview from his Willis of Tennessee office in West Knoxville, where he serves as an employee benefits executive. "It's especially important to me because I am from here. And I'm honored to be recognized for something I'm passionate about."
Goode's opportunity to get into officiating came when he had to blow the whistle on his own career due to injury. A standout three-sport athlete at Northwest Junior High and Bearden, he received a football scholarship to Tennessee beginning his freshman year in 1972.
During the next three years, he played with such standout Vols as Condredge Holloway, Stanley Morgan, Larry Seivers, Haskel Stanback and Randy Wallace and under coach Bill Battle, whom Goode still respects greatly.
"He was just a true gentleman," Goode said of Battle, who resigned after the 1976 season. "He cared about his players. He was young, so he could relate to his players pretty well. And he was very loyal to his staff."
A running back who was prone to injury and who admittedly did not have a distinguished career, Goode did not play at Tennessee his senior season in 1975.
But unknown to him, he would remain around football for a very long time. That same year, Jack Keys invited him to become an official with the Knoxville Football Officials Association. Needing the money, Goode jumped at the opportunity, officiating school-age games six days a week.
He soon found that the work was rewarding in other ways besides just getting paid.
"It was that bond with other officials and the competition to be the best official you can be," he said.
He aspired to see how far up the ladder he could go as an official. He went on to work with the Southern Conference and then with the SEC beginning in 1989, joining a long line of SEC officials from the Knoxville area.
As a side judge in the 1997 Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta, he called a penalty that negated a Georgia Tech interception late in the game. As the remainder of the game unfolded, Georgia was able to come back and score a touchdown for a victory.
It would be one of several times Goode had to try to make tough-but-fair calls.
He is proud that his crew was never involved in a controversial call that resulted in second-guessing or criticism by fans or coaches when he was the referee, but he knows football officials are human.
"The game is played by humans, coached by humans and officiated by humans," he said. "Players will make mistakes, coaches will make mistakes, so do we hold officials at higher standards?"
Goode later went on to serve as an off-camera rules consultant during games for CBS announcers Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson and enjoyed that work as well. "Verne knows everybody in the world," he said. "Everybody would come up and say hi to him."
Last year, Goode served as an SEC replay official, including during the championship game between LSU and Georgia. Although he did not have to run as much as he did while officiating on the field, his heart still raced plenty as he was in charge of making decisions concerning calls on the field.
"The replay booth is so much more intense," he said, adding that he works with two other people.
His officiating work also has included a few lighter moments. Although the SEC code of ethics prevents him from discussing specific names, he said he has had some humorous encounters with coaches, particularly when meeting with them before games.
For example, one coach wanted to let him know that an opposing player liked to hold, he said, while another one wanted him to go into detailed specifics about exactly how he did the coin toss.
The work has been quite enjoyable overall, he said, and he is glad the door opened on officiating when it closed on playing.
"It's kind of like a fraternity," he said. "When you go out on the field, there are actually three teams — the home team, the visiting team and the officials. Nobody is for the officials except the officials.
"And our goal is to get it right."
John Shearer is a freelance contributor.