As a football official you encounter an opportunity to fail on every play of every game. You have to make a decision. I actually say to myself before every play, “Lock and load.” I say it out loud. I’ve done that for years. That is the reminder to me that everything else is now meaningless. You throw the flag or you don’t throw the flag. My most publicized failure—which frankly isn’t my biggest mistake—was three or so years ago in Denver when they played San Diego. It’s a mistake that every referee has made. It’s the whole question about whether it was a pass or a fumble. It’s a very difficult call. I ruled an incomplete pass, but it was a fumble. When that happened, we went to replay. Frankly, I knew I was wrong right after it happened. [Hochuli's call gave the ball to the Broncos.] If it had happened in the first or the second quarter, nobody would have ever said anything about it. But it happened at the end of the game, and Denver won.
When that happens, you can’t let yourself get caught up in the fact that you’ve just made a mistake, or else I’m paralyzed for the rest of the game. So you immediately have to recognize the mistake, because you won’t cause anything but detriment if you lie to yourself. Then you have to move on. Admitting it publicly is part of dealing with it. And then you say, “What can I learn from it?” You’re not learning anything from your mistake if you justify it. You need to have confidence. One of the comments I hear is that I always seem in to be control, and I always seem to be confident. I laugh at that because sometimes that’s just appearance. But if I don’t appear confident, how can I expect people watching to have confidence in me? If I made a mistake and I’m going to change it, I’m going to explain what it should be and I’m going to stand up for it. This mistake did not destroy me. I’m not hanging my head. My shoulders aren’t drooping. On that Denver play, I responded, darn right I made a mistake, and I feel terrible about it. What do you accomplish by trying to hide it? — As told to Keenan Mayo
Watch Ed Hochuli explain how to admit a mistake at www.businessweek.com/howto/mistake or in our iPad and iPhone apps