UMSL alumnus Joe Larrew, BA political science 1974

UMSL alumnus Joe Larrew, BA political science 1974, works as a side judge during Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Along with his NFL job, Larrew also works as a lawyer based in Clayton, Mo., and a municipal judge for Bridgeton, Mo. (Photo courtesy of Joe Larrew)

More than 108 million people tuned in to watch the Baltimore Ravens defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the past Super Bowl. But few people watched the game as closely as Joe Larrew.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus capped off his 11th season as an NFL side judge by officiating the biggest game in professional sports. Film crews trained 60 cameras on the field, about three times more than a typical high-profile Sunday night game.

“When you’re out there for three hours, you have to be absolutely focused on every play,” says Larrew, BA political science 1974. “It’s physically demanding in that I cover six miles in a game, but I’m absolutely more mentally exhausted than physically tired by the end of a game.”

Larrew’s road to the Super Bowl was a long one with twists and turns that took him from football fields at high schools all over the St. Louis region to major cities throughout the world. That road began in his native Poplar Bluff, Mo., and next went through Normandy, Mo., where Larrew’s family moved in 1960.

He graduated from Normandy High School and accepted a full-ride scholarship to play football at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. His college football playing career was short-lived.

“When I got down there, I scared the hell out of them with my 170-pound, slow wide receivers talents, and they wanted me to red shirt, which means take an extra year,” he recalls.

Not wanting to tack on a fifth year to his bachelor’s degree pursuit, Larrew followed his NHS coach, who took a job at the University of Missouri–Columbia. After running into the same scenario, Larrew returned home and enrolled in the political science undergraduate program at UMSL.

“The campus was less than five minutes from my house, I could take a lot of credit hours, work on the side and the university was so affordable,” Larrew says.

He followed up his UMSL degree with a law degree from Saint Louis University and began working in the public defender’s office in St. Louis County. It was around this time, during the late 1970s, that Larrew’s past coaches encouraged him to get back into high school sports through officiating.

“I started sneaking out of the office at 4 o’clock every afternoon reffing basketball and then football,” he says.

Over the next 35 years, he simultaneously rose through the courtroom and football officiating ranks.

In 1983 Larrew joined what is now Hammond and Shinners, PC, one of the state’s larger labor law firms where today he is a principal and president. He was then elected in 1986 as the municipal judge for Bridgeton, Mo., a post he still holds today.

As for officiating, he worked his way up to what is now the Missouri Valley Football Conference by 1992. That’s when the NFL took notice.

“I had not even thought about getting into the National Football League,” Larrew says.

It would be a decade before he officiated his first NFL game. The lengthy vetting process included regular NFL scout visits to his games, a psychological evaluation and an in-depth background check before he was invited to begin officiating in the now-defunct NFL Europe. The transatlantic opportunity served as a training ground for the NFL.

“In 2002, I was hired into the league and I’ve been there ever since,” he says.

In the NFL, Larrew serves as a side judge with a seven-person officiating crew. He works 22 yards down field and is responsible for the wide receiver from the line of scrimmage, all runs and pass plays to his side, the sideline and coaches on his sideline.

At 61, he’s not sure how many more years he’ll work as an NFL official despite staying in great physical shape and working out with a trainer three times a week.

“The fact of the matter is, every year, I get one year older and the players stay the same age,” Larrew says. “But as long as they give me a 22-yard head start, I’ve got a chance to stay ahead of them.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2013 issue of UMSL Magazine.

Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz