General Articles


Even to the footballers he calls the rules against, Hec Crighton is the best referee in the business

TRENT FRAYNE November 1 1947
General Articles


Even to the footballers he calls the rules against, Hec Crighton is the best referee in the business

TRENT FRAYNE November 1 1947


Even to the footballers he calls the rules against, Hec Crighton is the best referee in the business


COACHES AND players in any sport invariably regard officials as evil nonentities foisted upon them to interfere with the good, rough fun, but footballers seem to regard referee Hec Crighton as something apart. A human being, almost.

Joe Krol, the Argos’ astonishing pass pitcher, calls Crighton the best referee in Canada, without reservation, and many others agree with him. “He knows the rules,” says Krol simply, “and that’s all any player asks of an official.”

Reg Threlfall, colorful, verbose former coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose dislike for anything connected with Eastern Canada was matched only by Eastern Canada’s football writers’ dislike for him, once remarked after his young men had dropped a 35 to 7 decision to the Toronto Argonauts that Crighton was “the only monkey out there who knows an old cleat from a nose guard.” Lew Hayman, the lachrymose leader of the Montreal Alouettes, has had his troubles with whistlers but not with Crighton. “There’s a square deal going on when Hec’s out there,” he has commented. “His work has always commanded the greatest respect from my players.”

Krol seems to have pinned down the largest reason that Crighton, whose name, incidentally, rhymes with Brighton although half the people he knows call him Crayton, is so highly regarded; he knows the rules thoroughly. Yet, though he can quote the rule governing any play you call at random, Crighton never undertakes to handle a game without first running fairly thoroughly through his rule book in the officials’ dressing quarters.

The Ruling that Cost a Title

17 VEN SO complete a briefing has not always -1-^ enabled Crighton to avoid anguished howls of protest from players and coaches, nor do their testimonials mean that he has never been surrounded by angry assassins in moleskin. Like many another referee he has learned that the fortunes of gridiron empires often depend upon an official’s interpretation of an involved rule. He called a play of such importance back in 1932 that he still can remember every detail 15 years later.

This was during the

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What’s he stopping the game for now? Hec Crighton shows what a referee’s signals mean.

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Eastern Canada final between the then haughty Sarnia Imperials and the once equally imperious Hamilton Tigers. With less than five minutes to go, Sarnia was trailing 15-11 and had the ball on the Hamilton 11-yard line. Two line plays failed and on third down Rocky Parsaca unloosed a pass at Norm Perry. A Hamilton player, Glen Small, reached up and batted at t íe ball and then it fell crazily into a maze of players on the Hamilton goal line. When Crighton got the players untangled he found Perry on the bottom clutching the ball with what the Imperials believed was a completed pass and a first down. But Crighton said no. He said the ball had bounced off the ground from Small’s fingers into Perry’s arms and that therefore it was an incomplete pass. It was Hamilton’s ball, first and 10, on their own 11-ya ’d line, he decreed. Sarnia, of course, never got the ball again as the Tigers “froze” it until time ran out.

Hamilton went on to beat the Regina Roughriders 25 to 6 to win a Canadian championship that everyone in Sarnia believed belonged to them.

That decision, Crighton says today, was the most contentious he ever made in his 23 years of officiating and, possibly because he is a shy man, he hopes it will always remain that way.

“Brisk, Businesslike”

Crighton isn’t a big man but rather is a solid one of five-foot-seven and 150 pounds. His hair, what there is of it, is white and binds itself tightly around three quarters of his sun-kissed skull. His mustache is grey and trimmed and his complexion, his erect, uiipaunched stature and his quickpaced gait give the impression that here might be a physical instructor. As it turns out, he is a physical instructor, the director of physical education at Danforth Technical School in Toronto.

On the football field, he is brisk, businesslike. He is not an official like the one, probably legendary, who was informed by a wailing player that an opposing lineman was biting him in the scrimmages. “Well, whaddayuh want me to do about it?” the anonymous official retorted, “phone the humane society?” Crighton is oblivious to all players’ complaints except those of the captains who, he says, are entitled to the officials’ interpretation of any play.

Although he calls the Sarnia-Hamilton decision the one that has caused him the most concern, Crighton has been present in three other famous episodes when a referee’s whistle won or lost a game.

In the 1937 Bomber-Argo East-West final the Westerners were hard pressed in the third quarter, rammed up close to their goal line. They got away a short, high kick to their 35 where Art West of Argos caught it and was embraced by Winnipeg tacklers Jeff Nicklin and Bud Marquardt. The ball squirted loose, Marquardt gobbled it up and teetered 75 yards on his long, st ilt like legs. The triumphant smile of a touchdown runner vanished from his face as he turned in the end zone to discover that Umpire Eddie Grant of Winnipeg had called the play back. Marquardt and Nicklin, he ruled, had not allowed West the required five yards while he was catching the punt. Crighton, the referee, had nothing to say then and he has nothing to say now about the play except to mention that he was running up the field under the

kick and was not in position, as Grant was, to view the play. The Bombers lost, 4-3.

The “Quick” Whistle

Last fall, when Montreal Alouettes played Argos to open the Big Four season, they were on the verge of a 10 to 9 defeat in the waning moments of the game when their placement specialist, Chester McCance, a former Biue Bomber, attempted to boot a field goal from a bad angle. He got the ball away but it narrowly missed the goal posts and was caught in the end zone by an Argo back who dropped the ball when a horde of white-sweatered Alouettes cascaded down on him. The loose ball was fallen on by a Montreal player.

Coach Lew Hayman leaped happily into the air, figuring his club had capitalized on the fumble to score a game-winning touchdown. Everyone else figured the same way except Head Linesman Norm Crichton, no relation to Hec, who said he’d blown his whistle before the Argonaut back dropped the ball, thereby terminating play. He ruled that the play was a one-point rouge, not a five-point touchdown, and neither Hayman, hell nor high water could change his mind.

Hec Crighton, as referee, had the authority to overrule Crichton, the linesman, but while he agreed that Crichton had probably come up with a “quick” whistle he could not alter the fact that the whistle had been blown. The game ended, therefore, in a 10 to 10 tie.

Argos and Alouettes finished the season in a tie, and more confusion followed Argos’ 12 to G victory in the sudden-death play-off for the league championship. Late in the game, with Argos hanging successfully but somewhat desperately to their one touchdown lead, the Alouettes got a series of ground plays clicking and moved the ball to the Argo eight-yard line. Virgil Wagner, swift Montreal back, got away around left end and appeared headed for a touchdown. But near the goal line he was hit hard by the defending Argos. He fumbled the ball and it rolled into the end zone where Argonauts fell on it to concede Montreal one point. The Alouettes, led by Hayman, claimed that Wagner had crossed the goal line before he had been hit, which would have meant an automatic touchdown. But Umpire Seymour Wilson, who was standing in the umpire’s position behind the defending team, ruled that Wagner had not crossed the line. Referee Crighton, standing in the referee’s position behind the attacking team, agreed with his decision.

Disappointed coaches who have been on the wrong end of close decisions like these have been known to mutter that it’s no coincidence the referees, linesmen and umpires look like skunks in their working costume. The officials are encased in white caps, black and white shirts, white knickers, black stockings, white socks and black boots.

No one knows just why they must wear such eye-jarring apparel. It certainly doesn’t steal the scene from the players, because football officials gain less attention from the spectators than the officials of any other sport. Crighton is inclined to think this is because most football fans know little or nothing of the game’s rules. They turn up in their thousands, he figures, to satisfy their taste for physica1 violence. So, when a referee blows his whistle and pushes his hands forward to signal illegal interference, not many of the crowd snarl at him because not many of them understand just why the play was stopped.

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Not always, naturally, is fandom ignorant and not always, either, do the officials escape unbruised. Winnipeg invaded Ottawa to battle for the national championship before the war with Crighton handling the game and Eddie Grant of Winnipeg and Pean Bennett of Montreal also cloaked in the mysterious striped suits. Winnipeg won the game and title by a single point.

As the three officials trudged from the field, a small boy confronted Crighton and demanded: “Which one of you guys is Crighton?” “Why, that’s him right behind me, son,” said Hec, ducking into the dressing room. The small boy thereupon let loose with a four-pound snowball which caught the astonished Bennett squarely on the back of his neck.

Crighton, now 47 and entering his 13th season as a referee in the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, more pleasantly known as the Big Four, has never since doubted that his decisions might not be received with complete accord.

Actually, refereeing is a hobby with Hec, one that can be more lucrative than most hobbies since senior referees collect $50 and more a game in his area, but still a hobby. And just as his sideline is close to his heart, so is his job of director of physical education at Danforth Tech. His square name is Hector Naismith Crighton, M.Sc., although he balks at mention of that master of science degree in physical education which he earned at University of Wisconsin last summer. He’ll never become Dr. Crighton. “My wife would leave me if I ever buried myself in the books and went south for a Ph.D.,” he smiles. “Football keeps me away from home enough as it is.”

The 135-lb. Quarterback

As a youngster he played sports of all sorts, although he weighed only 135 pounds when he quarterbacked the University of Toronto to the intercollegiate football championship in 1927. Earlier he played basketball and football in schools in Toronto where he was born April 2, 1900. He hadn’t planned attending university; in fact, went to work at odd jobs for three years before deciding in 1923 to go back to school. Thus, he was 27 when he came out of the College of Education in 1927 to join the athletic department at Humberside Collegiate. After two years at Humberside, Crighton went

to a hrand-new institution in Windsor, Kennedy Collegiate, where he spent three years. He remembers a young fellow named Joe Krol as a “little, wee guy who used to come around to practice broad jumping.” The big athlete in the school then was Joe’s brother, Johnny, whom Hec recalls as the best high-school quarterback he ever saw.

In 1933 Crighton moved to Danforth where, except for a five-year break during the war, he has remained. He was an RCAF wing commander and spent four years overseas in charge of recreation and special services.

What a Referee Does

Crighton wrestled this summer with an opportunity to become director of athletics at the University of Saskatchewan, finally decided he liked Danforth too well. There he spends the school year directing sports for the 1,800 students, 1,500 of them boys. Football, of course, is the sport he likes most to handle and in his 10 years at Danforth his teams have won three city junior championships. This is the game, he believes, which best teaches a budding citizen to handle responsibility.

“If a kid doesn’t hold up his end, he lets 11 other kids down,” points out Hec. “Kids are funny; they’ll suffer almost any indignity except the reproachful glances of their pals.”

Crighton first picked up a referee’s whistle in 1924 when he handled games in the Toronto high-school league. Then he graduated to the Ontario Rugby Football Union where he worked from 1930 to 1932, and in 1933 he handled his first Big Four game. He has, of course, performed as head linesman and umpire, although in recent years he has almost invariably been the top official, the referee.

The head linesman’s job, mainly, is to watch for offsides. As the teams line up at the line of scrimmage before each play, the head linesman takes a position halfway between the two lines and near the sidelines. If any lineman advances before the ball has been snapped, the head linesman is in excellent position to call the offside. That official also supervises the movement of the yardsticks and signals substitutes into the game.

The umpire, taking position behind the defending team before each scrimmage, watches for interference with pass receivers and covers downfield kicks for such illegalities as not per-

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I mit ting the receiver five yards of freedom. The umpire also watches for holding, the illegal use of hands by the j attacking team’s players, all of whom j are required to block defending players I with their bodies only.

The referee, from his position behind ! the attacking team, is required to see ! that the ball is placed properly into ! play; to watch eligible pass receivers ; on forward passes, all of whom, except ; five two ends must be behind the line j of scrimmage when the ball is snapped;

! to see that interference is carried no farther than the allowable 10 yards I beyond t he line of scrimmage; to watch for eligible players on onside kicks (these must be behind the kicker when he hoof's the ball); and other duties which might crop up to tax a whistler’s knowledge of the rules.

Many unusual things can crop up in a game which help to make the casual spectator as ignorant of what’s going on as, say, the whistler’s mother. Last year, in the Eastern Canada final between the Argos, the Big Four champions, and Balmy Beach, who won the ORFU crown, the Argonauts twice were rocked back by Beach touchdowns in the early going. They responded with one of their own and were trailing 12 to 6 when Beach started to roll again.

On third down in Argonaut territory, Beach’s Bob Porter called for an onside kick. The play caught the Argos with their breeches down and the Beaches charged after the ball. Porter j touched it, thereby placing onside all ¡ of his teammates, who were in his wake, j The ball rolled into the end zone with no Argo within 15 yards of it. George I Edwards, giant colored end for Beaches, reached the ball first but instead of j falling on it for a touchdown he batted it forward about 10 yards to another : Balmy Beach player.

That was the denouement. Instead of setting up another touchdown, Edwards had committed an offside pass in the goal area and referee Crighton had no recourse but to give the ball to Argos on the 10-yard line. Argos, handed an unexpected lift, and with Krol pitching and Royal Copeland catching, went right up the field and, in the dying moments of the first half, scored on a touchdown pass and converted to gain a 12 to 12 tie at halftime. Instead of trailing 18 to 6, they were in a new ball game, which they quickly made their own in the second half.

He Likes Our Rules

Crighton, of course, doesn’t labor under the delusion that the spectators know nothing at all about the game. He merely believes that because many

of the rules are intricate it seems logical that people who do not make football I heir business can’t be expected to know all of them. The advent of the forward pass opened the game up boundlessly for the spectator and Crighton also likes the new 10-yard allowable interference beyond the line of scrimmage. The rule, part of the Western Canadian code since 1936, was adopted in the East last season after having been moved slowly from no yards at all to three yards to five yards. The change has opened play to linemen particularly, he points out, because now all of them can be brought into the attack. Crighton doesn’t feel that unlimited interference, as is permitted in the United States, would make much difference to the game here because he says that not many American teams utilize more than 10 yards in getting their plays under way.

American blocking is superior to the Canadian variety, be feels, but that’s only a temporary condition. Blocking is a comparatively new assignment for most Canadians, he points out, one which experience can perfect.

But, for Crighton’s money, the Americans can keep their four downs; he’ll take Canada’s three. “Three downs provide a gambling element,” he says. “It can be mighty tough to pick up 10 yards in three tries. Four downs fail to give (lie defensive team an even break, they make for offensive rolls.”

In fact, Crighton, a student of rules, can find only one fault with the Canadian code as it is now constituted. That’s the rule governing a blocked kick on third down. Like most pigskin pundits, he feels that if a defending team, after holding its opposition for two downs, can get through to block a kick on third down it has earned possession, regardless of which team recovers the loose ball. Last year, if the attacking team recovered it was permitted to take its third down over again. This year, the rule has been modified only slightly; now the attacking team, if it recovers the loose ball, is penalized 10 yards, but still retains third-down possession.

Football isn’t the only extracurricular love in the life of Crighton, although he thinks enough of it to hope his son Ronald, now 13, will “let it help him become a man.” His interest in photography has prompted his friend, newspaper columnist and former football coach Ted Reeve, to call him the poor man’s Yousuf Karsh. In golf, another hobby tackled enthusiastically, he is nobody’s poor man. or rich either. Of Mr. Crighton’s golf it can be said only that he talks a magnificent game of football at the 19th bole. ★