June 10, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Picture a drop of water balancing on a leaf, or a Zen master poised on one foot—mid-air—for what seems an eternity. NFL referee and Omaha attorney Clete Blakeman maintains his own special equilibrium by excelling in two distinctly different careers.

“It really is a nice balance,” especially now in the off-season, he says. “I’m able to focus back on law for a little bit. And I do enjoy it.”

Blakeman, an attorney and NFL referee, was there the day Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s pre-snap count of “Omaha! Omaha!” became a viral media sensation.

“It got so much attention because the microphones on the field picked up so much,” he says. “Omaha!” had been part of Manning’s and other quarterback’s cadence over recent seasons, so Blakeman didn’t give the familiar audible too much thought. But at halftime, Blakeman learned that, thanks to microphone placements, the name of his hometown was being heard repeatedly by tens of millions of viewers.

“In the second half,” he says, “I did mention to Peyton that I was from Omaha, and he chuckled about it.”

From childhood Blakeman was immersed in the world of sports and officiating. He would tag along with his referee father for both football and basketball seasons in his hometown of Norfolk.

“It’s in my blood,” he adds.

Blakeman has served six seasons in zebra stripes. He manages a whirlwind travel schedule with an eye to minimizing time away from his wife, Katie, and their two children, daughter Maeve, 3, and son Hudson, 1. Blakeman makes his turf time essentially a 36-hour gig. He flies out the day before and, with the exception of Sunday night games, returns home the next night.

Blakeman has a front-row seat to the violence of the NFL and closely follows the league’s safety initiatives. “I have a sense that the sport is going to continue to change probably in the next 10, 15, 20 years.” The idea that his son may follow in his father’s football footsteps makes Blakeman doubly concerned.

“I’m very aware of health and player safety.”

Managing his jet-setting, multiple-career balancing act is more important now that his family is growing. “It’s great to be able to travel and experience other places,” he says.

And then, it’s even greater to get back home to “Omaha! Omaha!”

“To call this home, especially now with two little ones, it’s pretty special,” Blakeman says.

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