Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

TOP STORY >> NFL official a big hit at chamber banquet

Leader staff writer

As outgoing Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce chairman Mark Perry passed the gavel to John Farrell, chamber members and guests in the fully-packed community center Tuesday night enjoyed hearing from keynote speaker Walt Coleman.

Coleman, chief executive officer of Coleman Dairy and a 17-year veteran official in the National Football League, started things off asking for help from the crowd to help him feel more comfortable.

“As you all know I’m a football referee and it would really help me feel more at home — and maybe make some of the politicians here felt at home too — if on the count of three you all could boo,” Coleman said. The crowd obliged with someone even throwing a red “challenge” flag onto the stage.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate,” he said. “Every Sunday for the last 17 years I’ve been on the field with the likes of John Elway, Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman — players who are the best. I’ve been face-to-face with coaches like Mike Ditka, Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula — okay, maybe it ain’t all that great,” he joked.

The point, he said, was that when you are surrounded by great people, the best in the world, “if you just pay attention, it will help you become a better person.”

He said that’s what the chamber does. It brings together great people. Coleman told the audience about his first game as an NFL official.
“It was many years ago in San Francisco. The 49ers were playing the Raiders,” he said. “As I was walking on the field before the game I walked past Al Davis, the owner of the Raiders. Here I was a nobody from Arkansas and I was on the field with Mr. NFL. That’s when I knew I was actually in the NFL.”