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Wednesday, October 29, 1997

Snowstorm gives Abilene vet chance to ref on Sunday

By Al Pickett / Abilene Reporter-News

It is the goal of every football player -- and probably every coach and even every referee -- to someday work on Sunday.

Well, Dr. Lynn Lawhon achieved that goal last weekend, but it wasn't the NFL.

Lawhon, an Abilene veterinarian who is president of the Abilene chapter of the Southwest Football Officials Association, is also a Western Athletic Conference football official.

He was assigned to work the Tulsa-Colorado State game Saturday in Fort Collins, Colo. But because of the blizzard that hit Colorado Saturday, the game was postponed a day.

It kicked off at noon Sunday, 24 hours late. Only 10,000 fans showed up for the game Sunday, compared to 25,000 tickets that had been sold. But at least the two feet of snow that had fallen the day before had been cleared off the field.

By the end of the game Sunday, the temperature had "warmed up" to a balmy 40 degrees, a sharp contrast to the 20-below wind-chill factor at the scheduled kickoff time on Saturday.

"I had never been in a blizzard before," said Lawhon, who finally got back home to Abilene late Sunday night. "It was unbelievable."

Lawhon said he had been watching the weather channel all week and knew that snow was in the forecast for the Denver area. So he caught an earlier flight Friday out of Abilene.

It was 85 degrees when he left Dallas, but it was snowing when Lawhon arrived in Denver.

"It continued to snow and continued to snow and continued to snow," he said.

By the time the crew received its 5:30 a.m. wakeup call Saturday, it was still snowing. The new Denver International Airport, designed to stay open in all weather, had been shut down.

Incidentally, the only flight to get out of Denver Saturday was the Denver Broncos' charter flight to Buffalo for their game Sunday with the Bills.

"We turned on local TV and radio," Lawhon said. "It seemed like the snowstorm caught everyone by surprise. By the time they reacted, cars were stuck on the sides of the road. They couldn't get snowplows out, and they had a disaster."

Lawhon and his officiating crew kept trying every number they had for Colorado State coaches and athletic department officials but couldn't get an answer. So they left Denver at 7 a.m. and headed north for Fort Collins. Driving in a blinding blizzard, Lawhon said it took them 21/2 hours to go 60 miles.

When they finally arrived at Colorado State, more than 15 inches of snow were on the field and it was still snowing.

"By that time, the governor had declared a state of emergency," Lawhon said. "Every interstate in the state was closed except that stretch of I-25 from Denver to Fort Collins. And it was closed later."

Finally, after lengthy discussions between the WAC commissioner, the game officials and Colorado State officials, it was decided to postpone the game 24 hours.

Lawhon's adventures weren't over yet, however. Colorado State officials secured rooms in the local Holiday Inn for the officials to spend the night Saturday night.

"But all our personal things were in Denver," he said. "We had no change of clothes. We went to Target and bought shaving cream and deoderant. All of us have Target flannel shirts now."

By noon Sunday, the sun had come out and temperatures were warming up. The field had been cleared of snow, although the snow was piled more than six feet high just beyond the end zone.

"I've been in some cold games in the Panhandle before, but nothing like that," Lawhon said.

His first opportunity to call a football game on Sunday was definitely not what Lawhon had envisioned.


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