BRYAN — Mason L. “Red” Cashion, a Bryan-College Station businessman and longtime NFL official, died Sunday morning. He was 87.
Cashion was most known nationally for two words: His signature, drawled “First down!” call during NFL games. In his 2013 autobiography, he wrote that two other words — “You’re fired” — gave him the freedom and courage to make the infectious enthusiasm with which he refereed possible.
“I certainly hope you never have to hear those two words,” wrote Cashion, “unless, of course, they have the same wonderfully positive effect on your life as they did on mine. Being fired was definitely a life-altering event for me in a good way.”
The two words most synonymous with Cashion came to be, he wrote, because he was fired after one season as an official for the Southland Conference in the 1960s. His initial approach to officiating, he said, was to put forward a “dignified, detached, and stately” demeanor, but Southland Conference coaches said he seemed more aloof than anything.
He wrote that he would not have made it to the NFL if not for being fired — that it changed his perspective and pushed him to overhaul his work and life approach.
“I made a vow to live and work enthusiastically,” he said. “As I met people and interacted with people I already knew, I was stunned by how contagious enthusiasm is in day-to-day life.”
On Saturday, two of Cashion’s children — Joyce Cashion Cain, 62, and 55-year-old Jim Cashion — said in an interview that their father’s love of people extended beyond the gridiron and lived everywhere he went.
“He loved Texas A&M and he also loved Bryan-College Station,” Cain said. “He never met a stranger, and he always believed in the good in people. It didn’t matter your background.”
“He was an ambassador to the Bryan-College Station community. He loved the people here. And the glass was always half-full for him,” Jim Cashion said.
Cashion was born Nov. 10, 1931, at his parents’ home in College Station, and he ran track and played football, basketball and baseball at A&M Consolidated High School. He attended Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship and graduated in 1953. He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Cashion began his officiating career while finishing his undergraduate studies at Texas A&M. He retired from the NFL in 1997 after 25 years as an official, including 21 as a head referee. Cashion served as referee for Super Bowls XX and XXX.
After Cashion retired from the NFL, he served as chairman emeritus for ANCO Insurance in Bryan. During the 1960s and 1970s, Red went into business with his father-in-law, Hershel Burgess, who starred as a running back during A&M’s undefeated 1927 season, and Red’s best friend from high school, Dick Haddox. Their insurance business, Burgess, Cashion & Haddox, eventually merged with ANCO.
Cain said a less-known characteristic of her father was his business creativity and acumen. “He was very creative, and always looking for a way to make the insurance business better, and became extremely successful at that. He enjoyed figuring those puzzles out, and was never particularly happy with the status quo.”
Rusty Burson, who worked with Cashion on his 2013 book First Dooowwwnnn ... And Life to Go!: How an Enthusiastic Approach Changed Everything for the Most Colorful Referee in NFL History,said Friday evening that it was a joy for him to work with Cashion, and called him an excellent storyteller.
“He had so many stories and so many brushes with greatness,” Burson said. “He was an inspiring guy, and the favorite thing I learned about him was that he wanted to be an NFL official, and so he paid his own way to New York to the NFL offices with no appointment.”
Burson said the NFL didn’t initially have a spot for Cashion and sent him back to Texas empty-handed. Cashion got a call a few months after his impromptu visit from the NFL office, Burson said.
“The executive said to him, ‘Because you had come up here and showed that initiative on your own, we’d like to offer that position to you.’ That’s how he got started, and I think it’s an inspiring story of how when you really want something bad enough, you just go for it,” Burson said.
Cashion was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. Younger generations of sports fans came to know him through the Madden NFL video game series, as he provided the voice of the virtual referee for several versions of the franchise.
Cashion was preceded in death by his wife of 47 years, Lou Burgess Cashion, in 1999.
He spent many years as a member and elder at A&M Presbyterian Church, which Cashion’s father helped start. Later in life, Cashion was a deacon at First Baptist Church of Bryan. Recently, Cashion and his second wife, Marie, had been members of A&M United Methodist Church.
Jim Cashion and Cain both said their father also helped people financially and otherwise behind the scenes to help with their education or business endeavors. “The spirit of hospitality was in the family,” Jim said. “He’s had an incredible life.”
In addition to Jim Cashion and Cain, Red Cashion is survived by daughters Sharon L. Cashion and Shelley Cashion White, and by six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A celebration of Cashion’s life will take place at A&M United Methodist Church on Feb. 18 at 10 a.m. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Callaway-Jones.