June 18, 2018

Red Cashion ’53, famous for his "First doowwwnnn!" call, was an NFL official for 25 years.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the number 43. “It’s just the number they gave me,” Red Cashion ’53 said of the black-and-white striped jersey he wore for 25 years as an official in the National Football League (NFL).

The now 86-year-old Cashion, who lives in College Station, had a remarkable career overseeing the play-by-plays of one of America’s favorite sports. From small beginnings to two-time Super Bowl officiating appearances, he is perhaps most remembered for the famous “First Doowwwnnn” call that punctuated his career.

Throughout his days on the field, he officiated for every team and worked in every NFL stadium of the time. He got to know some of the game’s greats—the best players, coaches, broadcasters and fellow officials—and he got to do it all under the bright lights.

“Pro football is one of the biggest games there is,” he said. “If you can play in that arena, you get to play with some of the biggest sportsmen in the world. I enjoyed watching the talent that the athletes brought to the game. They were the greatest athletes in the world, and I was honored to be alongside them.”

Ultimately, Cashion’s upstanding reputation and flair for the dramatic earned him a spot in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame—the only official ever awarded this honor.

Getting His Start

Cashion is one of the few people who can claim he really was born an Aggie: He was born on campus in 1931, where his dad worked as secretary of the YMCA building.

His interest in football began early, and while he played quarterback at A&M Consolidated High School, he decided not to go out for Texas A&M’s football team after his older brother was injured playing college ball at Louisiana State University. During his sophomore year, while speaking to a friend about regretting that decision, it was suggested that he try officiating. In 1952, while a senior at Texas A&M, he officiated his first high school football game, and continued to officiate high school and small college games for 20 years.

From the outset, though, he had his sights set on bigger stages. “I wanted to be a pro official, no doubt about it,” he said. “I thought that pro officials were the best in the business, and I watched football every Sunday so I could learn from them.”

Red Cashion Interview

Hear Red's First Down Call

Cashion eventually got hired by the Southland Conference, but was fired after his first year. His supervisor told him the coaches didn’t think he was interested in the game and that he often maintained too low of a profile on the field. Realizing he needed to spice things up, he came up with the idea of his signature “First Down” call.

“The more fun it was, the more I did it,” he said. “It’s unbelievable how it caught on.” Even when he wasn’t on the field, people recognized him and liked to remind him of his trademark call.

“Once, I was waiting on a shuttle to pick me up for a meeting. A great big bus came rolling by, and there wasn’t any other traffic or another vehicle in sight. The bus got about 50 yards away, stopped, and backed up about 25 yards. The bus driver got out, stood there looking at me for a second, and yelled ‘First doowwwnnn!’ Then he got back in the bus and drove off. And I thought to myself, ‘what a compliment!’” Cashion recalled.

His call became so famous that it was used as the voice of officials on the Madden NFL video games for several years.

The Big Time

In 1972, Cashion got the break he’d been waiting for while he was officiating for the Southwest Conference: He was asked to join the NFL officiating crew.

For most of his career, he served as the head referee. This official primarily focuses on the quarterback, but also has the responsibility of making penalty announcements and clarifying complex rulings for audiences; conferring with the instant replay official; and conducting coin tosses. Interestingly, Cashion used the same whistle his whole career.

Red Cashion '53 at his home in College Station today.

Cashion had the great honor of serving in both Super Bowl XX (Chicago Bears vs. New England Patriots) and Super Bowl XXX (Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers), and noted that the extra hype around the responsibility got him off to a rocky start in Super Bowl XX in January 1986.

After nearly missing what Walter Payton—the team captain for the Chicago Bears—called during the coin toss, Cashion proceeded to run to the wrong end of the field at the packed Louisiana Superdome. “I was supposed to be at the receiving end of the field, but I got a little nervous and ran the wrong way.” Realizing his mistake, Cashion cleverly found a way to cross the field without embarrassing himself in front of 87,000 onlookers—and his supervisor.

“I saw that the kicker, Tony Franklin of the New England team (and a former Texas A&M kicker) was a fellow I knew quite well,” he said. “He asked me, ‘Red, what are you doing out here?’ And I said, ‘Tony, if you want to know the truth, I’m at the wrong end, and if I stand here and talk to you, they’ll think I’m doing something special because it’s the Super Bowl, and then I can walk down to where I belong.’ So, Tony and I talked about College Station for a few minutes, and that’s how Super Bowl XX started.”

Cashion officiated during a time many might call the heyday of NFL football. While the game itself didn’t change much, he noted that officiating became more technical in the duration of his career, enabled by the introduction of video review. The number of officials on the field also increased from six to eight, in part because the sport became such a passing game that more eyes were needed to survey the field.

While Cashion always did his best to call plays correctly, he admits that no official is perfect. “Sure,” he said, “I made some mistakes, and I acknowledged them. But an awful lot of officiating is the mental side of it—having the right mindset for the games—and managing the game’s flow.”

Cashion retired from officiating in 1996, while he was ranked the best NFL referee. “I didn’t want anybody to tell me I was too old, and I didn't want to go down in my ability to officiate. I wanted to go out on top.”

After he retired, Cashion worked another 15 years as an NFL observer and referee talent scout, in which he also trained incoming referees. When asked about his legacy and what he hopes it means, he doesn’t ask for much. “I just want people to remember that I was fair, honest and good,” he said. “And that I loved the game.”

  • On-Field Memories

    Red Cashion '53 served as an NFL official for 25 years, during which he officiated for every team and worked in every NFL stadium of the time.

  • Super Bowls

    Footballs from Super Bowl XX and XXX, in which Cashion served as an official. Also pictured is a football from Super Bowl XXV, in which Cashion served as an alternate official.

  • Number 43

    For most of his career, Cashion served as the head referee. This official primarily focuses on the quarterback, but also has the responsibility of making penalty announcements and clarifying complex rulings for audiences; conferring with the instant replay official; and conducting coin tosses.

Cashion’s pursuit to become an NFL official, and the many things he learned from his job, is detailed in his book “First Dooowwwnnn...and Life to Go! How an Enthusiastic Approach Changed Everything for the Most Colorful Referee in NFL History,” which is co-authored by Rusty Burson.