Few – if any – officials in pro football history had a physique as imposing as Ed Hochuli’s.
Hochuli developed his muscular frame when he played linebacker for the UTEP Miners during his college days from 1969 to 1972.
When he bade his football playing days goodbye to focus on his career as a lawyer and NFL official, he maintained his incredible musculature through a rigorous lifting program and sound nutrition plan.
Hochuli’s physique didn’t just make him stand out – it made him far and away one of the most popular NFL referees in recent memory.
To Ed Hochuli’s grandchildren, he is “Papa Touchdown.” On the other hand, NFL fans will forever remember the ripped referee who made a lasting legacy on the pro gridiron from 1990 to 2017.
Early Life and Education
Edward G. Hochuli was born in Milwaukee, WI on December 25, 1950.
According to SI.com’s Steve Rushin, Hochuli’s (pronounced “Hah-khuh-li”) surname is of Swiss origin. His father Walter uprooted their family from Wisconsin and moved them to Tucson, AZ in 1958.
Since Ed Hochuli was a child, he had always wanted to become a lawyer like his dad. He realized that dream after graduating from college in 1972.
— SUPER. BOWL. CHAMPIONS. 💚 (@LuisNFL96) January 3, 2015
Hochuli attended Canyon del Oro High School in Tuscon, AZ. He attended the University of Texas-El Paso and played linebacker for the UTEP Miners football team from 1969 to 1972.
Hochuli admitted to SI.com’s Amanda Cherrin in January 2006 that he wasn’t the most athletic player on the gridiron during his college days.
At 6’1″ and 215 pounds, Hochuli felt he was undersized and slow for an NFL linebacker so he never considered playing professional football.
“I never had a great deal of athletic talent, but I worked hard at it,” Hochuli told Cherrin in his sixteenth year as an NFL official in 2006. “The NFL was not an option. I’m small and I’m slow.”
Despite Hochuli’s shortcomings on the gridiron, he could outwork anybody in the weight room. He could bench press 370 pounds in college, per Rushin.
Before long, Hochuli graduated with honors and became an All-Western Athletic Conference academic honor student-athlete in 1972.
After Hochuli earned his Bachelor of Arts diploma from UTEP that year, he ditched the weight room for marathons – a lifestyle he embraced for almost 20 years.
Hochuli eventually earned his law degree from the University of Arizona.
Ed Hochuli realized his dream of becoming a lawyer, but he never expected to also become one of the most prominent officials in the National Football League for almost 30 years.
Pro Football Officiating Career
Ed Hochuli began his pro football officiating career as an NFL back judge in 1990.
The refereeing bug bit Hochuli after he graduated from UTEP in 1972. Around that time, Dean Metz, a Tucson, AZ high school football coach, told Hochuli that officiating would help him earn extra income and remain involved in football.
Hochuli was a newlywed who earned $50 a week as a Pop Warner referee officiating games on Saturdays.
Hochuli admitted to Rushin 40 years later that refereeing football games had him hooked the instant he tried it. He slowly worked his way up the ladder and officiated Pop Warner, high school, junior college, and eventually, Pac-10 games in the NCAA.
Hochuli got his biggest football-related break in 1990 when he received an interview request from the National Football League. After a league psychologist sized him up for five hours, his memorable legacy on the NFL gridiron had officially begun.
Ed Hochuli’s first game as a rookie back judge was a preseason game in Green Bay, WI at the turn of the 1990s decade. After Hochuli threw a flag for pass interference, he quickly realized it didn’t count as such in the pro football ranks.
According to SI.com, Hochuli discreetly retrieved the marker and quickly stuffed it inside his pocket like he never threw it in the first place.
Hochuli eventually picked up the nuances and got the hang of officiating in the NFL. The league promoted him to referee – a position he never held at the collegiate level – after just two years on the job.
Ed Hochuli immediately felt his new position was a far better fit than his previous one.
“The most important aspect of being a referee is leadership,” Hochuli told SI.com in October 2012. “Officiating is so much bigger than the sum of the pieces.”
A 175-lb. Hochuli had not pumped iron in the weight room since his college days at UTEP, per SI.com. He started lifting again when he became an NFL official and eventually put on 40 pounds of incredible lean muscle mass through the years.
Hochuli had one thing in mind when he returned to the weight room. He wanted to look good as a professional on the football field.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 4, 2017
He told Rushin in 2012 that having the physique of an athlete was important to him so that he could earn the respect of the players. It’s something he preached to his fellow officials during his time on the NFL gridiron.
Having an imposing build also helped Hochuli handle big egos – an issue he had grown accustomed to both in his law office and on the football field.
Hochuli’s muscular physique has gotten the attention of many NFL players through the years. It’s so imposing that some of them even thought he could make an impact on the gridiron.
“You look at him and it looks like he needs to be on our side of the ball or on defense,” Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb told Cherrin in 2006. “He stands on the sidelines looking like one of the linebackers.”
Football fans and television viewers typically notice Hochuli’s muscular arms bulging out of his uniform. As far as Hochuli can recall, his reputation for having massive guns started with former New York Giants quarterback and current football analyst Phil Simms.
One time, Simms was working a blowout game with the outcome well out of reach. A bored Simms drew two circles around Hochuli’s arms with the telestrator on a whim. He then raved about Hochuli’s incredible arm size, per SI.com.
Hochuli has a different take on the matter. The thought of comparing muscular arms with players was a preposterous one to him – he felt their arms were as big as his thighs during his heyday as an NFL official.
Jerry Markbreit, another popular NFL official, told Rushin that it wasn’t just Hochuli’s chiseled physique that made him who he was.
In Markbreit’s opinion, Hochuli was a top-notch professional who gave players, executives, coaches, and fans alike every reason to believe the game was in good hands.
According to Rushin, Hochuli typically prepared for games by poring over videos for 15 hours every week. He also presided over a teleconference with the NFL’s 120 other officials every Tuesday.
NFL Referee Ed Hochuli has retired after 25+ years…
His best calls are AMAZING! 🤣 pic.twitter.com/4wmEY8etw0
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) March 8, 2018
His point was simple and succinct: he always reminded them to be ready for any possibility during a three-hour game.
One of those possibilities was incurring the ire of coaches and fans if Hochuli and his fellow officials made a questionable call.
In one instance, Atlanta Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville shouted obscenities at Hochuli during a game. Hochuli simply asked him what he just said.
An irate Glanville turned to one of his assistants and told him Hochuli wasn’t just blind – he was deaf, too, per SI.com.
Apart from Hochuli’s film and teleconferencing duties, he also told ESPN’s John Clayton in 2007 that he filed reports, wrote letters, talked on the phone with supervisors regarding the grading process, and took a weekly written exam.
Hochuli studied the NFL rule book for an hour daily during his officiating career. Pro football rules are very complex. He and his fellow officials even had a case book that featured 1,000 plays.
By Clayton’s estimate, Hochuli put in approximately 30 hours each week as an NFL official. When one also considers the 50 hours Hochuli worked as a lawyer during the day, he typically put in an average of 80 hours per week on the job.
Hochuli also told Clayton he and his fellow officials had to take random drug and alcohol tests back in the day. Fortunately, none of them ever tested positive during Hochuli’s NFL officiating career.
Hochuli made no bones about it – officiating is a tough profession. It’s especially taxing on one’s brain because officials have to judge roughly 160 plays in every game. They’re mentally spent by the time the final whistle blows.
For Ed Hochuli, officiating wasn’t just a profession. It was an adrenaline rush he couldn’t get enough of.
“It’s hard to get off that high,” he told Rushin in 2012. “It’s like a mainline IV of adrenaline in my arm. I love that 50 million people are waiting for me to be right or wrong.”
By the time Ed Hochuli was in his sixteenth year as an NFL official in 2006, he had run twelve marathons. Although he told Cherrin he had already stopped doing marathons because they take up too much time, he did aerobic exercise on a stair machine or treadmill for an hour daily.
— Becky Parker (@SportingBecky) August 14, 2013
Hochuli maintains his stunning and massive physique by doing strength training four times per week. It’s his way of blowing off some much-needed steam from balancing his family life as well as his law and NFL officiating careers.
“It’s something I need to do as a release,” Hochuli told SI.com in 2006. “Something that gets me through the day.”
Hochuli broke down his four-day training split – which typically lasted two hours per workout – to Cherrin that year. He did most of his strength training exercises in the three- to five-set range.
Hochuli focused on his chest area on Mondays. His program included the following exercises:
- Barbell bench presses: Three sets of 10 repetitions using a 225-lb. barbell. Alternatively, Hochuli did five pyramid sets on the barbell flat bench with the heaviest weight at 225 pounds.
- Dumbbell bench presses: Three sets of 10 repetitions using a 90-lb dumbbell for each arm. Alternatively, Hochuli does five pyramid sets with the heaviest weight at 95 pounds for each arm. He ended this exercise with a burnout set of incline flyes using two 35-lb. dumbbells.
- Cable machine flyes: Hochuli did 10 repetitions of exercise in the three- to five-repetition range with No. 9 as the resistance.
- Decline dumbbell bench presses: Hochuli did three sets of 10 repetitions using two 55-lb. dumbbells for this chest exercise.
Hochuli worked his shoulder area on Wednesdays:
- Seated military presses: Hochuli lifted three sets of 10 repetitions using a 165-lb. barbell.
- Seated dumbbell presses: He did three sets of 10 repetitions using two 70-lb. dumbbells. Alternatively, Hochuli did pyramid sets with resistances ranging from 50 to 75 pounds.
- Dumbbell lateral deltoid raises: Hochuli did three sets of 10 reps using two 30-lb. dumbbells. Depending on the training cycle, he also did three drop-down sets of 10 repetitions using 25-lb, 20-lb, and 15-lb. dumbbells.
- Shoulder shrugs: Hochuli did three sets of 12 reps using dumbbells in the 90- to 100-lb range.
- Shoulder-width chin-ups: Hochuli ended shoulder day by doing three sets of 10 reps of chin-ups.
Hochuli focused on his back muscles on Thursdays. He told Cherrin he typically used machines at various angles to work this muscle group.
- Rows: Hochuli did three sets of 10 reps with a resistance of 75 pounds.
- Cable pulldowns: He also did three sets of 10 reps using a full-stack resistance.
Finally, Ed Hochuli trained his massive arms (which bulged out of his NFL official uniform) on Saturdays. Depending on the training cycle, he also did supersets consisting of one triceps exercise and one biceps exercise with no rest in between sets.
- Close-grip bench presses: Hochuli did three sets of 10 repetitions using a 190-lb. barbell.
- French presses: He did three sets of 10 reps using a 90-lb. curl bar. Hochuli then moved to the cable machine where he did tricep curls with a full-stack resistance.
- Bar curls: Hochuli did three sets of 10 reps using an 80-lb. curl bar.
- Dumbbell curls: He did three sets of 10 reps using a 40-lb. dumbbell on each arm.
- Machine curls/hammer curls: He did three sets of 10 reps with a resistance of 35 pounds.
- Concentration curls: Hochuli did three sets of 10 reps using a 25-lb. dumbbell.
No training regimen is complete without the proper nutrition program. Ed Hochuli was no exception. He shared some dietary advice with SI.com in 2006.
- Breakfast: Instant oatmeal
- Mid-morning snack: one banana
- Lunch: Canned chicken and instant rice or chicken salad
- Dinner: Sushi three times per week, Homemade chicken noodle soup three times per week, and a massive salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli once a week.
Hochuli told SI.com that he loves chicken because it’s an excellent protein source. It also doesn’t compromise one’s caloric intake that much. Hochuli also doesn’t consume red meat.
His guilty pleasures include Cheetos and Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses.
“I’ll have Cheetos when I’m feeling sorry for myself,” Hochuli told SI.com in 2006. Cheetos and Chocolate Kisses are my weaknesses.”
Ed Hochuli isn’t big on supplements. The only one he consumes is whey protein – he drinks a 40-gram protein shake almost daily. When he trains at the gym, he drinks one or two shakes to help improve muscle recovery and growth.
During the opening coin toss for Super Bowl XXXVIII between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, 77-year-old quarterback legend and ceremonial captain Y.A. Tittle wanted the coin as a keepsake for his granddaughter.
However, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH wanted to keep the commemorative coin. Hochuli’s empathy for Tittle’s granddaughter prevailed – he reached into his pocket and used his own silver coin for the opening toss.
Hochuli handed over the unused commemorative coin to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, per SI.com.
Prior to the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX, Ed Hochuli saw his wife, sons, daughters, and grandchildren wearing his famous No. 85 referee jersey in the stands. They quickly stood out among the crowd of Patriots and Panthers supporters.
Hochuli didn’t mince words after he saw his family members in the 38th edition of the Super Bowl in February 2004.
“The best moment of my career was looking up and seeing that,” Hochuli told Rushin some eight-and-a-half years later.
NFL official Ed Hochuli is retiring.Hochuli has been an NFL referee since 1999, having began his career with the league as a back judge in 1990. He was the crew chief for 19 playoff games, including for Super Bowl XXXVIII between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. pic.twitter.com/cZM5Xv7Lj2
— NFL Newswire (@newswire_nfl) March 6, 2018
Ed Hochuli wasn’t perfect. One of his most famous blown calls occurred during a game between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers in 2008. He incorrectly ruled Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler’s pass incomplete when in fact it should have been a fumble.
Hochuli’s gaffe cost San Diego a much-needed win. He soon realized he made a mistake and apologized time and again.
Hochuli’s inbox became cluttered with email between his repeated apologies. He received 150 emails when he departed for Los Angeles International Airport after the game. The number grew to 25,000 six days later, per Rushin.
Despite Hochuli’s law background, he sometimes couldn’t get the words out as an NFL official.
For instance, Hochuli wanted to say “indisputable” during a video replay of the NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants on January 22, 2012.
Since Hochuli was at a loss for words, he uttered “uncontroverted” instead – an unfamiliar word that prompted viewers to search for its meaning in law dictionaries and online, per Rushin.
As Hochuli gained more experience on the NFL gridiron, his fame grew far and wide. It wasn’t unusual for random strangers to introduce themselves to him at various airports and courtrooms.
One such example was former NBA All-Star and basketball analyst Charles Barkley running into Hochuli and asking him who he was at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, AZ sometime in the mid-2000s, per SI.com.
Hochuli became so popular David Letterman’s Top 10 List featured him in its January 29, 2002 episode.
With that, Hochuli told the Arizona Daily Star’s Bruce Pascoe he never expected to garner that much publicity as an NFL referee.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) March 6, 2018
After 28 seasons working as an NFL official – including two Super Bowl games – Ed Hochuli retired from the National Football League on March 7, 2018. He was 67 years old at the time of his retirement.
Hochuli’s fellow pro football official, Jerry Markbreit, summed up the former’s impact on the gridiron with a few choice words.
“Among the best of the best ever,” Markbreit told Rushin in the fall of 2012. “He’s got charisma, he’s a deep-feeling guy, he’s a wonderful human being. And he’s Hercules – if I had his physique, I’d still be refereeing.”
Ed Hochuli has three daughters: Heather, Jennie, and Rachel. He also has three sons: Scott, Shawn, and Aaron. He has 10 grandchildren who fondly refer to him as “Papa Touchdown,” per SI.com. They currently reside in the Phoenix, AZ area.
Hochuli and his first wife Bonnie had five children together. He married his second wife Cathie in 2009.
His divorce greatly affected his relationship with his son, Aaron. Hochuli remembered Aaron giving him the cold-shoulder treatment from the time he was eight years old until he turned twelve. It’s one memory that brings a tear to Ed Hochuli’s eyes.
Fortunately, father and son rekindled their relationship several years later. In fact, Aaron Hochuli officiated high school football games in Arizona when he became a family man himself.
Hochuli’s son Shawn – the fourth in the brood – has followed in his father’s footsteps as an NFL official.
Shawn Hochuli replaced his father as a referee when the latter retired from his NFL officiating career following the 2017 NFL season. The younger Hochuli has been officiating in the NFL since 2014.
Ed Hochuli never hid the fact he had always wanted to work with his son on the football field. Fortunately, their officiating careers overlapped by four seasons from 2014 to 2017.
Referee father and son duo Ed and Shawn Hochuli. After further review, Happy Father's Day! pic.twitter.com/QoBlImnR1l
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) June 21, 2015
For his part, Shawn, a California-based financial adviser, blazed his own trail. He never told his dad he was already a football official after he had two years of experience on the gridiron, per Rushin.
Ed Hochuli is one of the founding partners of Jones, Skelton, & Hochuli (JS&H), a law firm with satellite offices in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
According to JS&H’s official website, Hochuli worked as a trial lawyer for more than 30 years and handled more than 150 civil jury trials.
Hochuli represented clients in cases involving general liability, retail defense, transportation defense, and dram shop and social host liability.
Hochuli typically put in 50-hour work weeks as a lawyer, per Rushin.
Surprisingly, Ed Hochuli doesn’t watch football as a hobby. Apparently, his officiating instincts get the better of him whenever that happens.
“I don’t watch a lot of football for fun,” Hochuli told SI.com during a typical workday at his law firm in 2012. “I’ve tried, but I’m always looking to see if the left tackle is holding.”
Instead, Hochuli likes walking his family’s two lapdogs with his wife Cathie around their Phoenix, AZ neighborhood. He also has other hobbies few people know about.
Hochuli’s son Shawn told SI.com in 2012 that his father is “a total science-fiction nerd” who loves attending comic conventions and listening to sci-fi podcasts.
Ed Hochuli became a member of the Pina County Sports Hall of Fame in the fall of 2006.