In a usual Thursday experience after finishing the newspaper’s print publication, I traveled to one of my favorite places where I go to relax and dust off some steam: Pass Cigars in downtown Pass Christian, Mississippi.
Even though I do have a few vices, I just stopped by to see and talk to one of my good friends, Pass Cigars owner Cliff Williams, to discuss a few upcoming business events.
After stepping up the rocky stairs and entering into the cave-like atmosphere, I noticed a husky gentleman (even though I certainly am too) with a cigar and a brew leaning on one of the lounge chairs talking amongst the regulars.
The man spoke with a calm yet stoic voice, almost like someone with a radio pitch that you would listen to and not interrupt. This man’s name was Hubert Owens, a southern gentleman from Yazoo City who now lives in Atlanta and was in Pass Christian working on a construction contract for the harbor.
Under the cap, which no one from the regulars or myself knew, Owens was the legendary SEC football referee that became known as “The Franchise” after 15 years with the conference. From 2005-2019, the SEC became one of the top college football conferences in America with Owens as the main white-hat referee.
Owens garnered his nickname during his first season in the SEC when a veteran referee asked him what he would do if the quarterback rolled out and continued into the sideline. Owens’ answer was simply, “I’m staying with ‘the franchise,’ the quarterback.”
Owens became one of the top referees in all of college football with virtually all his games being broadcast on national television.
Being around the game of football since I was five years old, you could say I was a little starstruck when I noticed him under his hat and may have scared him because I popped out with so many questions about everything from teams, coaches, athletes, gambling, cheating, etc.
One thing remained constant with Owens’ response to every one of my questions — he was calm and consistent. I truly saw the reason for Owens being nicknamed “The Franchise” and why he was so highly respected by coaches, commissioners, and players alike. He never let anything in his response or his action on the field go overboard.
Jokingly, Owens spoke about a few of the coaches and fan groups who were not exactly calm, but he mentioned only a few staff members who ever left during his time as head referee.
With all the questioning of officials nowadays with gambling, cheating, and other conspiracies, Owens spoke in a very fatherly form about the actions of his crews from the SEC and the SWAC, where Owens began his officiating career. With his kindred spirit and calm complexion, I could easily see the respect he possessed from everyone on Saturdays.
As the 2023 football season is on the horizon, I tip my cap to “The Franchise” for helping me understand that it’s a game we play and to enjoy the experience.
Thank you, my legendary friend, and hopefully, we’ll meet again soon.
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