It was a valid question, considering O’Neill had played football much of his life and
was an integral member of St. Rita’s 1978 state championship team.
“I thought he meant coaching,” said O’Neill, who grew up in Chicago’s Scottsdale neighborhood. “My dad (Bill) was a teacher and coach. My brother (Mike) and sister (Ann) were teachers and coaches. I said, ‘No.’ But he meant as an official. That kind of got me interested. He told me to go to a (official’s) meeting and see what it’s about.”
Twenty-seven years later, O’Neill, now 53, recently reached college football’s grandest stage. The St. Bede’s School grad was part of the seven-man crew that officiated the 2014 BCS National Championship game between Florida State and Auburn, held Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
The game was an instant classic, won 34-31 by Florida State.
“It was unbelievable,” said O’Neill, the director of development at St. Rita. “Just being on the floor of the Rose Bowl during the national championship game. Every college official is watching that game and being able to demonstrate your abilities to your peers is pretty special.”
And what his peers witnessed, along with millions of viewers, was a cleanly officiated game, void of any controversial whistles or flags that might have impacted the outcome.
“We had nothing to do with the outcome,” O’Neill said. “They put it (game) in our hands and I think we put it in the upper deck.”
O’Neill’s officiating journey to the national championship began in 1986 with a freshman “B” game between Reavis and Sandburg. His first college game was at Moraine Valley back when the community college had a football program.
“I remember the first time I ever stepped onto a Big Ten stadium,” O’Neill said. “Another official had to beg off his game on Friday because his wife was having a baby. I
stepped in. Cincinnati was playing Wisconsin, and it went into overtime. It was a thrill.”