Obviously, Dave Foxcroft isn’t the first man to officiate a football game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and he isn’t the first to referee a Grey Cup game.
But he has to be the first to do both. And he will have done it within the span of three months.
“It’s a pretty special year,” says the 50-year-old Burlington native who has been named the head referee for Sunday’s national championship between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders in Ottawa.
“Yesterday I was excited….today I’m scared.”
Foxcroft was exaggerating slightly, but does emphasize that you have to have some level of anxiety before taking control of an event which matters to so many people. He says if you’re not nervous, you don’t care enough.
“But once the ball kicks off, it’s just kids playing football. It was like that in Green Bay too.”
For two years, Foxcroft has been part of a CFL-NFL program to develop officiating strength and depth on both sides of the border. He was Side Judge for an exhibition game in Denver in 2016 and last August, was Field Judge in a Green Bay Packers pre-season game against powerhouse Philadelphia Eagles in front of more than 74,000 fans.
“It was late August so I thought, ‘This won’t be the snow-blown Lambeau Field,” he laughs. “And on the way down it hailed!”
Foxcroft likens his officiating style to the duck-on-a-pond metaphor:
“Calmness on the surface, while underneath the water the little feet are paddling like crazy.”
This will be Foxcroft’s sixth Grey Cup. He was head linesman for four of them, then last year was the back-up referee to Andre Proulx. This year, his backup is Al Bradbury, who lives in Winnipeg but grew up in Burlington.
“Two guys who went to MM Robinson,” he says.
Burlinhton’s Dave Gatza will also be on the 2017 officiating crew.
There is, of course, a family story here as Foxcroft’s father Ron, the founder of Fox 40, is a legendary basketball referee who was the only Canadian to work the NCAA, is in the Canadian basketball Hall of Fame, and still evaluates officials for the NBA.
Dave Foxcroft started working basketball and football games in grade 10 when he was 15, and eventually officiated hoops in the CIAU finals. But he felt too many people were crediting his basketball success to Ron, and “decided to get serious about football.”
He was summoned to the CFL around the turn of the century and has worked his way up to become one of the most respected referees in the game.
‘In refereeing, they expect you to be perfect in your first game and get better every game after that,” he says, adding with a laugh, “Kind of like working for my dad.”
While acknowledging that, “there was definitely the family influence of officiating,” Foxcroft has reached out through his career to other local refereeing legends, of which the Hamilton-Burlington area has more than its share, particularly on the gridiron.
“Jake Ireland, a Football Hall of Famer, taught me how to be a head ref. He came over to our office to talk,” says Foxcroft, the president and COO of Fox 40 International. “I made notes on what Jake told me and I still review those notes before every game.
“Dave Hutton helped me with communicating with players, and with the rules. Dave still tutors me on the rules.
“Al McColman, so sound in his mechanics, talks to me about officiating mechanics.
“I’ve grabbed something from all of those guys.”
Foxcroft still referees some high school ball and says he applies “the same standard” as pro games.
“To everyone out on that field, this is their Grey Cup,” he says, adding, “Refereeing a Grey Cup is a huge honour. It’ll be the pre-game stuff, the public speaking things like the coin toss that are the hardest parts.
“After that, it’s just kids playing football.”
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