Photo: David Zalubowski (AP Photo)

Mason L. “Red” Cashion, an NFL official from 1972 to 1996 known for his enthusiastic penalty calls, died Sunday morning as first reported by Kenny Wiley of the Bryan-College Station Eagle. He was 87.

Casion began his NFL officiating career in 1972 as a line judge and was promoted to referee in 1976. He served as the referee for Super Bowl XX and XXX. What football fans best knew Cashion for was how he would famously draw out his “first dowwwwwn!” call whenever he addressed a stadium crowd. He told Tribune football writer Don Pierson in 1996 that he has no idea how that tradition of his started—or how to get people to stop saying it around him—but he suspects it’s because of a contagious enthusiasm he projected.

“I was playing golf at Pebble Beach last spring and was just fixing to tee off on the first tee box and this guy standing up having a drink hollered, `First down!’ I just dropped the club,” Cashion said. “I thought, `What the heck?’ It’s just crazy how it’s caught on. I guess I hear it 20 or 30 times a week while I’m traveling.”

[...]

“Somehow I think I wanted to say, `Hey, I’m enthusiastic about this game and I want everybody else to be that way, too.’”

The more likely reason for that call catching on is that he was promoted just one year after the league decided to give referees microphones to explain penalty calls to the in-stadium and television audience, meaning he was a pioneer in that respect. In the same interview he also said that the NFL rule book was too complicated, video replay was far from being perfect and that full-time officials are necessary to the success of in-game refereeing on a week-to-week basis.

Cashion officiated 18 postseason games, one Pro Bowl and nearly 500 professional games throughout his 25-season career.