By BENN HODAPP, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Most people have probably seen Land Park resident David Lambros without even being aware of it.
If you watch a lot of Pac-12 football on Saturdays or catch the evening sports news, you might just catch a glimpse of him.
He can easily be spotted because of his zebra stripes, whistle and yellow flag.
Lambros started officiating in the Pac-10 in 2001, but the life of this husband and father of two began his life as a referee with more humble roots.
After spending time in the Navy (and Vietnam), Lambros came back to northern California to go to school. He attended both American River College and Sac State and eventually became a deputy sheriff in Sacramento. In a throwback to his days as a football player in high school, Lambros participated in the first four Pig Bowls which annually pits cops vs. firemen.
In 1982, Lambros found a local high school association of officials, bought his books, paid his dues and started on his way to becoming a big time official.
“They train you in the classroom and on the field,” Lambros said. “It’s kind of like an apprenticeship. You don’t get paid at first but the instructors talk to you as the game progresses and critique you.”
He started out working high school and Pop Warner games to hone his craft. In 1986, he started working junior college games before moving on to what was then called Division I-AA and Division II college games in 1992. In 1995 he moved up the latter to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and to the Mountain West Conference in 1998.
But it was 2001 that Lambros called “a big year” for him.
He moved on to the Pac-10, one of the biggest stages in college football that year. He also began officiating in the Arena Football League, which he did for eight years. He went on to explain some of the ins and outs of officiating in the Pac-10.
“There are six Pac-10 crews,” he said. “My crew gets together in February to begin studying for the upcoming season.”
The crew meets twice per month until May, when they begin meeting weekly.
“At the end of July we have conferences and clinics and in August we work scrimmages.”
When it comes to calling games on Saturdays, Lambros still feels like it’s his first time out there.
“Every game I am at I get chills looking around at all the people,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which stadium I’m in.”
As far as his favorite venues in the Pac-10, Lambros is partial to The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, home of the UCLA Bruins. The craziest atmosphere, though, comes from up north.
“Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon is the loudest stadium I have ever been in,” he said.
It was particularly loud when he officiated the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers at their annual “Civil War” game. The rival universities have played each other every year since 1894.
The travel for a referee can be draining, but Lambros said that it isn’t too bad, because the Pac-10 schools are somewhat close to each other. Outside of bowl season, he never has to travel further than Arizona or Washington.
His list of memorable games includes a 72–68 marathon of a bowl game on Christmas Day as well as the 43–42 Idaho victory over Bowling Green in last year’s Humanitarian Bowl.
In his years as an official, Lambros was blown away by the talents of one player in particular.
Lambros is a “back judge,” which means that he deals mostly with wide receivers and defensive backs. One of the players that stuck in his mind as truly great was former USC wide receiver Mike Williams.
He also said that during his time referreeing in the Mountain West that Brian Urlacher once made a play that even he couldn’t believe while he was at New Mexico.
And as for those penalty calls viewers get irritated by, the officials’ agenda is not as sinister as some make it out to be, according to Lambros.
“When a play goes off, I have no idea who the players are or sometimes even which team is which,” he said. “I’ll see that green pushed white, so the foul is on green. I have to try my best to remember what number the guy was.”
Oct. 23 was Lambros’ final day off of the season before traveling to call the Oregon-USC game on Oct. 30 in Los Angeles. So when you are watching a Pac-10 game on the television, watch for this veteran ref chasing after receivers and throwing his pesky yellow flag.