NFL referee on the field, a father at home

Haley Helverson’s father, Scott, is in his 12th season as an NFL back judge.

Gophers soccer defenseman Haley Helverson and her father, Scott Helverson, talk about his experiences as an NFL referee at the Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Oct. 24.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Gophers soccer defenseman Haley Helverson and her father, Scott Helverson, talk about his experiences as an NFL referee at the Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Oct. 24.

Ben Gotz

In February 2008, years before she put on a Gophers uniform, junior defender Haley Helverson looked down from the stands of the University of Phoenix Stadium and spied a familiar figure on the field: her father.

Helverson watched firsthand as her dad, wearing number No. 93 on the field, officiated one of the most memorable games in Super Bowl history.

“Not a lot of people can say that their dad is an NFL ref,” she said. “I mean, it’s really cool.”

The New York Giants upset the New England Patriots in dramatic fashion, and Scott Helverson was right in the middle of the biggest play of the game: the helmet catch.

With the New York Giants trailing in the waning minutes of the contest, quarterback Eli Manning escaped an almost-sure sack and heaved up a throw over the middle. With Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison draped over him, Giants wide receiver David Tyree secured the catch using just one hand to press the ball against his helmet.

And Haley, watching from behind, saw it all happen.

Scott Helverson is now in his 12th season as a back judge in the NFL and officiated his second Super Bowl in 2011 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. He was also part of the Pro Bowl officiating crew last year.

Haley Helverson, in her junior season with the Gophers, is one of the team’s captains and key players. She has played in almost every match for the team since arriving on campus and was named to the freshman All-Big Ten team after her first season.

Despite their hectic schedules during the fall, the two communicate often. It doesn’t take long to see how much they care about each other.

They even have their own signals once Haley finds her father when attending one of his games.

“He tips his hat at me,” Haley Helverson said.

Big Ten, big stage

When Haley and Scott Helverson went to college, they both ended up as student-athletes at Big Ten universities. Haley went to Minnesota, while Scott was a walk-on wide receiver at Iowa.

Their initial impacts on campus were a little different, though.

“My friends like to give me grief because [she was] freshman All-Big Ten and I was just a walk-on,” Scott Helverson said. “So I had to work my way up to Haley’s level.”

But Scott Helverson was an honorable All-Big Ten selection on Iowa’s 1985 Rose Bowl team his senior year.

Helverson used to battle Minnesota for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. But when it comes to soccer, Scott Helverson doesn’t side with his alma mater.

“We’re all Minnesota during soccer season,” he said.

After graduating from Iowa, Helverson didn’t expect to wind up on an officiating crew.

“I had no idea I was going to get in officiating,” Scott Helverson said. “I met a guy — an official — in the Big Eight at the time. He kind of got me started, and I just worked my way up the ladder.”

He said he started officiating by working “little-league stuff” in the Des Moines, Iowa, area before working his way through Division III football, the Big Ten, the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before finally reaching the NFL in America.

Now, Scott Helverson works primarily on Sundays, though he still often drives four hours during the fall to catch Haley’s Friday night home games.

On Sundays, when both often have a game to be at, the two send text messages to each other “constantly,” Scott Helverson said.

Haley Helverson said she often calls her dad after her games, sometimes not knowing what city he is in that week.

Her dad logged plenty of miles just over a weekend ago. He was on hand to watch his daughter and the Gophers get a 1-0 victory over Maryland on Friday, and he was in New Orleans by Sunday to officiate Sunday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.

Official conduct

Even though Haley Helverson admitted she can’t help hassling referees every now and then, growing up with one in the house made her see them in a different way.

“I think I have more respect for them just because I know they go through a lot more than what people see on the field,” she said. “Players do get very aggressive and loud and mouthy. I think I’ve kind of shied away from that since I was younger. And I’m a captain now, so I have to be more respectful because I carry the reputation for the team.”

Minnesota head coach Stefanie Golan said over her time with the Gophers, Haley Helverson has been able to control her emotions on the field better and better. Now in her junior season, that helps her set an example for her teammates.

“When things aren’t going well, the kid just continues to grind and continues to fight,” Golan said. “She’s done a good job of leading by example from that standpoint, and you know she’s going to work her tail off for you.”

Like father, like daughter

Scott Helverson said he puts in 20 to 25 hours of football work before games, in addition to another job.

“We just don’t show up to the game. There’s a lot of preparation work,” Scott Helverson said. “We do a lot of rule study, a lot of film review throughout the week.”

After getting a firsthand look at someone doing that preparation, Haley Helverson said sometimes she can give her friends a “grimace” when they start complaining about officiating they see.

Occasionally, though, when she really disagrees with a call, she screams at the television, too.

And when that happens, there’s one person she has to turn to.

“I’ll call [my dad] and I’ll be like, ‘Did you see this?’” she said.

Even when his daughter starts questioning his coworkers, Scott Helverson is nice enough to reply back.

“Yeah, she’ll call me or text me, ‘What about that call?’” Scott Helverson said. “And then I’ll have to respond.”