The 41-year-old line judge, a 19-year vet who spent eight seasons with Conference USA and in 2009 was the first woman to officiate a bowl game, has broken the NFL's gender barrier.
DAN PATRICK:Was the NFL always a goal?
SARAH THOMAS: Not in the beginning. As an official you're just trying to get through each play and each game. I always said if the National Football League called, I wouldn't turn them down. They called last Thursday, and I'm in.
DP:What's that phone call like?
ST: It was exciting when you see area code 212 pop up on your phone this time of the year. During the season I don't know if I necessarily want to see that. This time of year, however, it's worth picking up the phone to hear [NFL vice president of officiating] Dean Blandino say, "Welcome to the NFL."
DP:Do you want to be known as a pioneer, or do you want to be anonymous?
ST: This is a first [as a full-time NFL female official]. It's meaningful to a lot of people. But anyone who officiates football wants to go unnoticed. The mind-set of officials is that the best game we can work is the one we can leave and nobody even knew we were there. I have worked several games, and they didn't even know a female was out there. I want to blend in.
DP:Did you ever have a college player apologize for bad language?
ST: Not really. I've had them call me sir and apologize for that.
DP:What's the hardest rule to enforce?
ST: Ones from the line of scrimmage. There's so much that's happening. We just want to be a line of scrimmage expert—head linesmen and line judges. Grasping everything from the collegiate level on to the NFL level.... I've got a lot of work ahead of me, just as any new official would.
DP:How do I argue with you without drawing your ire?
ST: Just ask me [a question]. Shoot it to me straight. I understand the game. It is a passionate, competitive game. I don't want to get in an argument with anyone. I respect their opinion, and I'll address their issue.
DP:Ever been run over?
ST: No, but I have been flipped in the air. But I got up.
DP:What do officials do at this time of year?
ST: Preparation. Preparation. Preparation. There's no off-season in officiating. You're constantly looking at film. You're constantly talking to mentors, other game officials. Doing quizzes. Training and working out. Clinics. Minicamps. And then training camp.
DP:Did Dez Bryant catch that ball in the playoffs?
ST: I can tell you, we're just the enforcers of the rules.
DP:You already sound like an official.
ST: Because I am.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talked about getting comfortable with one-and-done players. "I've always loved freshmen," he said. "But I actually like sophomores even better, and seniors I embrace." ... Now that Bud Selig has retired as MLB commissioner, he's teaching college courses in history at Wisconsin and on sports law at Marquette. "I told an owner the other day, 'Boy, I would like to get all of you in a class,'" Selig told me. "'Because for once in my life I could flunk you and bail out on you.'" ... New Texas basketball coach Shaka Smart isn't worried about competing with Longhorns football. "There's been over 50 national championships here among different sports," Smart said. "The success and interest of football, that's actually going to be a positive for us."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
TOM HAUCK/AP (THOMAS)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (KRZYZEWSKI)
MORRY GASH/AP (SELIG)
CHRIS COVATTA/GETTY IMAGES (SMART)