Kent Payne typically watches the Super Bowl much the same way as most football fans: lounging on the living room couch, eating pizza.
Not this year. Super Bowl XLV was anything but typical for the Nebraska Wesleyan University alum.
Payne, a seven-year veteran of the NFL officiating crew, was selected as the head line judge for one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
“It was the call I’ve been waiting for,” Payne said of the call that came January 17. “It almost didn’t feel real.”
In reality, Payne was not too surprised by the call. Only those NFL officials who score highest in a rigorous, season-long evaluation win the right to work the Super Bowl. His score of 99.32 out of 100 secured his selection to the big game.
As head line judge, Payne led the chain crew. He counted offensive players before each play and watched for illegal formations, false starts and offside penalties. After the snap, he transitioned to different responsibilities on running and passing plays.
His Super Bowl weekend at Cowboys Stadium included pregame meetings, a lengthy practice of the coin toss, and celebratory functions. The hoopla with this particular game outshined his regular-season duties.
“I get nervous before every game,” he said. “But there was more pressure with this game. Once we get to kickoff, it’s a game. It’s what we’re there for.”
Payne got his start in Coach Harold Chaffee’s officiating class. Once he learned the basics, he officiated the university’s intramural games. His real passion for athletics was demonstrated on the basketball court. Nicknamed “Buckets” for his ability to score baskets — he’s still among the top scorers of all time in Nebraska high school basketball — Payne was a standout on Nebraska Wesleyan’s men’s basketball team. He is a member of Nebraska Wesleyan’s athletic hall of fame as part of the 1984-85 team.
“Being a part of athletics at Nebraska Wesleyan prepared me for what I’m doing now,” said the St. Paul, Neb. native. “I know the ups and downs of being an athlete. I learned not to let myself get too high or too low.”
Today, Payne balances his officiating duties with his job as a middle school math and science teacher in Aurora, Colo. He commends his school for allowing him the flexibility to officiate four pre-season and 15 regular-season games each year.
“It takes a lot of balancing,” said Payne, who spends time nearly every evening during football season mentally and physically preparing for a NFL game. “If you enjoy something, you find a way to make it work.”
His officiating duties have provided him the opportunity to meet many athletes and coaches over the years. In addition to the Super Bowl, Payne counts two NFC playoff games among his most memorable.
“The athletes respect the job we have,” Payne said of the players. “They’re professional for a variety of reasons.”
As for those angry fans:
“They don’t know what goes into preparing for a game,” he said. “We don’t just show up on Sunday.”
Now Payne will enjoy the offseason, which will be highlighted by a Super Bowl ring presentation later this spring.
“That’s the ultimate,” Payne said of the ring. “That will be a prized possession.”
Nebraska Wesleyan University provides equal educational opportunities to all qualified persons in all areas of university operation, including education and decisions regarding faculty appointment, promotion or tenure, without regard to race, religion, age, sex, creed, color, disability, marital status, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation.