Step inside Red Cashion’s house, and anyone can tell that Red is a big football fan.
His living area has pictures of football players from throughout the decades, from the early 1970’s all the way until the late 1990’s.
And in his office, an entire wall – from almost ceiling to floor – is covered with more pictures and plaques.
But Red isn’t the typical NFL fan – in fact, he’s in most of the pictures, standing next to the giant players that seem to tower over him.
“That is Joe Montana right there,” Cashion said as he slowly perused all of the pictures, seemingly lost for a minute as if he was reliving each moment. “There’s a lot of memories here. Lots of memories.”
And in a hallway just outside of his office hangs an old whistle, with a white piece of tape rolled into circle that’s the exact size of Red’s hand.
A whistle that was there with Red for every one of those memories.
“Well I was supposed to play – or I will say I had the opportunity – to go out as a walk on for the [Texas] A&M football team. And for whatever reason I decided not to do that. And about my junior year, I began to miss it and wish I had. I was fussing about it one day, and someone – I don’t remember who – said why don’t you try officiating? And I thought, well it could be fun. So my senior year at A&M I began officiating, and I’ve been at it ever since,” Cashion said.
Cashion joined the referee ranks in 1952, and started out working high school games. He eventually made his way into the college fields and stadiums, before the National Football League came calling in 1972.
It was there that he would solidify his reputation as an honest referee, one that coaches knew they could trust would call a fair game.
“When Red did a game, everyone had a certain comfort level, because you knew it was going to get called the right way. And even if there were mistakes, he’d readily say, hey we screwed that up,” said Mike Sherman, who spent 10 years coaching in the NFL.
“They liked him. The football coaches I’ve know over the years in the NFL, all had a lot of respect for him. And they don’t like all officials, but Red was one they always had a lot of confidence in. When he was calling a game, they knew it would be managed in a good way, and an honest way,” said R.C. Slocum, a 34-year collegiate coach and long-time friend of Cashion.
Red said that was his plan when he took the field every time – to uphold the rules of the game, but admit to players and coaches when he was the one in the wrong.
“Oh yes, I’ve made lots of bad calls. I had lots of them I’d like to have back. But you can’t do that. So you talk to players and try to explain to them what you saw. And I’d tell them when they looked at the film, if I did really miss it, well it wasn’t the first one I ever missed. But I did want them to know what I called and what I saw,” Cashion said.
And while Red became a favorite of coaches because of his honesty, his personality attracted many players.
“He had a tremendous personality, was always fun to be around, he was always joking with us, and he always remembered my name,” said Hunter Goodwin, who played eight seasons in the NFL.
And as many coaches and players do, Goodwin had his own favorite memory with Red on the field.
“I don’t remember what game it was, but I do remember I got called for holding. And Red was reffing the game, and in his typical sense of humor, came up and said, you dumb Aggie quit holding! And I turned around and wanted to know who the heck was calling me a dumb Aggie, and of course it was Red. And he just had this big grin on his face. That was the funny character he was. And I thought that was kind of cool that he remembered that I was an Aggie [Texas A&M] player,” Goodwin said.
The players always made sure to joke back with Red. And one of Red’s favorite moments towards the end of his career, came as a joke from one of the NFL’s most decorated defensive players.
“Reggie White was an ordained minister, and preached a whole lot when he wasn’t on the football field. And he walked over before the game, and he said Red I understand you’re quitting. And I said Reggie, this is my last game and I’m going home. And he looked at me and said, really? And I said Reggie, I told you, I’m through! And in only the way he can, Reggie raised up his hands, and looked up to the sky and said, praise the Lord!” Cashion said with a big grin.
Red earned the honor to serve as referee in the biggest game of the NFL season, the Super Bowl. As always, Red and his crew called a near perfect game in Super Bowls 20 and 30. But in Super Bowl 20, he almost got the game off to a rocky start.
After nearly missing what Walter Payton - the team captain for the Chicago Bears - called during the coin toss, Red then proceeded to run to the wrong end of the field.
"At that point, I discovered I had a problem, because there I was with a white hat, a 2-inch striped shirt, silly looking knickers, and a yellow flag hanging out of my back pocket...and all I had to do was get to the other end of the field without 87,000 people seeing me, and particularly my supervisor who was sitting up in the stands. So I walked up to Tony Franklin - who was a great kicker for [Texas] A&M - who was about to kick off for New England, and Tony said Red what are you doing out here? And I said Tony, if you want to know the truth, I'm at the wrong end, and if I stand here and talk to you, they'll think I'm doing something special because it's the Super Bowl, and then I can walk down to where I belong. And so Tony and I talked about College Station for a few minutes. And that's how Super Bowl 20 started," Cashion said.
But despite all of the things Red is remembered for, there will always be one specific thing he'll be know for - his emphatic first down call.
Many football fans, and nearly every player and coach during Red's years on the field, have heard his famous call.
"When there was a first down, there was no doubt about it. You know you got that first down. He would have been a good home plate umpire calling strikes and balls, because you would be definitely be able to know the difference between one and the other," Sherman said.
Said with a slight southern drawl, Red often would raise his voice and bark out the word "first", and then slow his cadence, drawing out the word "down".
"Isn't that something to be known for? I love it!" Cashion said.
Cashion said the call came after he was fired from the Southland Conference as a referee. His supervisor told him the coaches didn't think he was interested in the game, and that he often maintained too low of a profile on the field. When he was offered another referee gig, he was determined to let everyone know that he was there, and that he was deeply involved with what was going on around him.
"I've had some strange experiences with it outside of the field too. Once I was waiting on a shuttle to come pick me up for a meeting. And a great big bus came rolling by. And there wasn't any other traffic or another vehicle in sight. And the bus got about 50 yards, stopped, backed up about 25 yards and the bus driver got out. And he stood, and looked at me for a second, and said, first down! And he got back in the bus and drove off. And I thought to myself, what a compliment," Cashion said.
Cashion no longer roams the middle of the football fields, but still works with the NFL, helping train new referees and critiquing the penalty calling of others. And while he does miss the games from time to time, he said he most enjoys spending time at a place that he's always called home.
"I've traveled an average of 100,000 miles every year, for just about the last 30 years, and I haven't found any place that year round - when you take all the things and add them together - that there's any place better to live, than [the Brazos Valley]," Cashion said.