The She-Zebra

Will Erin Meehan be the first female ref in the NFL?

Meehan says she hasn't experienced any explicit chauvinism from coaches, players, or fellow officials. "I've been really lucky that way."

The biggest obstacle she faces, her father says, is her height. Because most football players are tall (and linemen are tall and wide), some crew positions make it difficult to see everything on the field. And staying out of the way can be a challenge too. "I told her: 'At five-foot-three, do not be an umpire. That would not be conducive to your health,'" Jack says.

Dealing with loud and obnoxious parents is part of her job. And coaches aren't exactly sweet to the striped ones, as she learned well growing up on the sidelines. That part of her story is like a modern fable: the child of a great coach wanting to be a referee, like the offspring of a lion wanting to be a zebra. For decades, Jack stalked the sidelines, eyeing the officials. "Sometimes we discussed things — maybe loudly," he jokes. "If an official is consistent and in position to call it, I've never had a complaint. I'd call them afterwards and talk to them and even asked if they wanted to come look at the game film."

"I saw my dad yelling at officials all the time growing up," Erin says. "I don't break down and cry when I throw a flag and they yell about it."

She's not Jack's only tough daughter. Her sister, "Killer" Kate Meehan, is a professional kickboxer in Tampa Bay.

Erin says it could still take her years to get to the NFL as a referee, but she's already played that role at Dolphin Stadium: Two years ago, when the Dolphins hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars, she was head referee for the halftime youth league game. Jack's mouse pad in Colorado has a picture of her from that day, wearing her white hat.

"They say there are three things polite people should never discuss over dinner: politics, sports, and religion," she says. "Well, I worked for John McCain in college, and I love to talk about it. And I'm always in the middle of a sports conversation."

And religion?

"My religion is basically football."

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