George Shinkan was sitting in a hotel restaurant in Baltimore last Wednesday with seven other gentlemen. They were all anticipating the next night's NFL game between the host Ravens and Browns.
Munster's Shinkan and the other men were NFL replacement officials scheduled to work the Ravens' game.
But after a crazy Monday Night Football game earlier last week where Seattle was rewarded with a game-winning touchdown pass that most in America viewed as an interception, the clock was ticking extremely fast.
"That call killed us," said Shinkan, who was paid for last Thursday's game and flown home. But his time in the big show was over.
Last year, the average NFL salary was $149,000. The holdout worked out financially for the full-timers. NFL officials will be paid $173,000 next season and that number will jump to $205,000 by 2019.
But there will be more accountability in the future. Poor officials could lose their jobs, unlike before.
Shinkan, who worked as a line judge, loved his seven weeks as an NFL official, despite the sometimes cruel scrutiny. The 25-year small-college football official and President of the Munster Booster Club wouldn't trade a thing about his experience.
"Hell yeah," he said when asked if he would do it all over again. "It was a great experience. I enjoyed it. I love officiating football at all levels.
"I wanted to prove something to myself, not anyone else. I wanted to prove that I could officiate at this level and I felt like I was pretty damn good at it."
Valparaiso's Larry Babcock was also an area replacement official, but he declined to be interviewed for this story. Both Shinkan and Babcock received high marks by their game supervisors.
As the labor dispute rolled into this past summer, both locals received notification about the possibility of working NFL games. That's where the busy schedule went nuclear.
An application was filled out. A background check with NFL Securities occurred in Lafayette.
"There was a lot of paperwork," Shinkan chuckled. "A lot."
Shinkan went to the NFL three-day tryout camp in Dallas the first week of July. They went over the differences in rules between the college and pro game. They discussed the new NFL rules for this season.
They did a lot of game film review. They met with league officials to talk about the philosophy of officiating. Then, it was the physical assessment, which was ...
"Brutal," said Shinkan, a 1983 Munster graduate. "We did backward runs. Sideway runs. We did all this stuff and ended it up with a half-mile run. It was tough."
A week later, the owner of Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning got his letter congratulating him to the league.
In mid-July, another day full of meetings happened and Shinkan was assigned to his crew.
"When we ate we all sat at the same table," he said. "We were like an instant family."
Shinkan's crew was assigned to work the Tennessee Titans training camp. They went to practices and talked with coaches and players.
"The speed of the game was what we had to get used to," Shinkan said.
The crew worked four preseason game -- Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, Miami-Carolina, Tampa Bay-New England and Detroit-Buffalo.
The replacements worked with a game supervisor. They had meetings the night before the game, typically 24 hours before the last official got into town. The pregame meeting lasted three hours before kickoff.
"When I walked onto the field the first time, I was in awe of being in a stadium that big," Shinkan remembered. "But after that it was just a football game. I never had that 'Wow' factor.
"I wasn't looking at these guys. I was there to do a job. They were just players to me. We had to focus hard for those 15 seconds (each play). I never looked into the crowd."
The three regular season games that Shinkan worked were Kansas City-Atlanta, Miami-Oakland and Philadelphia-Phoenix. And, of course, he was there for the Baltimore-Cleveland game before the historic pink slip arrived.
Shinkan did not read or listen to negative commentary that many NFL fans and scribes threw out there.
But the blown call in Seattle was part of the dinner chat for sure.
"We knew there was an issue," Shinkan said of the Baltimore dinner. "We talked about the blown call. We wanted to keep working. We wanted to show a national audience we were a good crew."
Shinkan's knees were hurting him because of his NFL time. He went to visit Dr. Lorin M. Brown in town on a couple of occasions. And with both of his daughters competing in softball and Shinkan coaching his youngest girl's team, this was going to be his last year as an official anyway.
"I had the time of my life," he said. "I did a good job, my crew did a good job. It was just a few calls that everybody talked about. I think most of the games were called pretty well."