When Mark Haynes turns on a TV to watch NFL games, he’s not cheering for a certain player or team. He’s focused on the referees and how they’re dressed.
Hayne’s owns Honig’s Whistle Stop, a discreet uniform store off Highway 30 in College Station, the home to Texas A&M, a football-obsessed SEC school known for the Corp of Cadets, “Yell Leaders” and the “12th Man.”
But Hayne’s uniform business doesn’t dress the Aggie football team. His business caters to the referees of the National Football League.
“I never really advertise the fact that it's in College Station, but when people do find out the first thing is New York to College Station, what’s the correlation? How did that happen?” Haynes said. “ It was just a unique situation, that was just a coincidental thing."
The front warehouse is a cramped space of shelves stacked with boxes. The hundreds of boxes are filled with hats, shirts, pants, wristbands, Nike Shoes, whistles, notepads and even the yellow flags that replacement NFL refs love to throw to the chagrin of fans. The uniforms aren’t made in the warehouse, but they’re shipped from the small central Texas town.
But ever since regular NFL refs reworked their contract with Roger Goodell and the NFL, Haynes business has been humming.
“The last 48 hours haven't been as busy as the last 24,” Haynes said laughing.
Haynes is a former college athlete at Texas A&M. When at work, he’s dressed in shorts, an NFL polo shirt and tennis shoes. He still has an athletic build. He’s using that big frame in the warehouse most of the day, loading boxes into a truck. The truck will head to North Texas with referee uniforms.
Each referee receives two uniforms. One for warm weather and another for cold weather. There is also some rain gear for the occasional wet and muddy game.
The refs will also get two new pairs of Nike shoes (one for turf, the other for grass), along with a few yellow flags, some bean bags (for fumbles) and even a pair of Nike shower sandals. Refs are athletes too, and therefore, vulnerable to “Athlete’s Foot” in the locker room.
Haynes is heading to North Texas to meet with NFL refs. The refs will be hashing out details on their contracts and then pick up their uniforms.
“We will lay out all the goods. It's sort of like an assembly line,” Haynes said, describing the process of having 120 refs picking up their work uniforms.
While in North Texas, the uniforms will be sized, tailored on site thanks to a small army of tailors hired by the NFL, then sent off with the refs to appear on fields for week 4 games.
“They have to go to a training camp, they have to stay at a standard. We keep a sizing chart that we use every year. So if that changes, if it changes and goes down, that's fine, but if it goes up, you know, something’s wrong,” said Haynes with a smile. “I've seen it. I've seen that happen. They have to stay at a standard, though.“
The referee that epitomizes the standard is Ed Hochuli. If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll recognize the man. Go ahead, Google Ed Hochuli. He’s the referee with biceps bigger than most NFL wide receivers. Hochuli is built like linebacker, and looks like he could still put on pads and crush a quarterback. And he’s 61-years-old.
Because of his workout routine, Hochuli always looks like he wearing a ref shirt that either shrunk in the dryer or was meant for his grandson. When asked what shirt size Hochuli orders, Haynes immediately started laughing.
“I think he wears about a medium or a small,” Haynes said giggling. “I don't know if he likes them small or he just fills them out or what. The fans like the image. Let me leave it at that,” Haynes said joking.
But Haynes said when he watches a team, he doesn’t focus on the game. He is watching to make sure the refs look professional.
“Me, the director of product development, and some of the other positions that deal with the uniforms closely, find themselves not even watching the play of the game. We're watching the seven guys in the stripes,” Haynes said.