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HE WHISTLES WHILE HE WORKS
William F. Reed
August 10, 1970
The man in the middle is Tommy Bell, an NFL referee. A lawyer on weekdays, he polices a Sunday game with a crew of five, all of them yearning for utter anonymity
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August 10, 1970

He Whistles While He Works

The man in the middle is Tommy Bell, an NFL referee. A lawyer on weekdays, he polices a Sunday game with a crew of five, all of them yearning for utter anonymity

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"Ha," said Graf, "you're nothing but a stiff-kneed, over-the-hill old athlete."

"I can beat you and your wife and your kids, too," said Harder.

"We'll have to get this on TV at half-time tomorrow," said Bell.

This week a recent addition to the crew, Burl Toler, had come the shortest distance, from San Francisco, where he is the principal of Benjamin Franklin Junior High School. He had become the head linesman on the Bell crew early in the season after having been the principal figure in a foul-up in 1968 while with another of the NFL's seven crews. The story had made all the papers: Toler had lost a down, giving the Rams three instead of four during a key drive late in their eventual loss to the Bears. What had happened, apparently, was that on a play where the Rams had been penalized, they also were charged with the loss of a down. The error was not detected until after the game, and while Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended the entire crew, it is the head linesman, Toler, who is responsible for keeping track of the downs. The furor served to underline Tommy Bell's belief that the official's goal should be utter anonymity.

After dinner the officials adjourned to the St. Louis Room, off the hotel's lobby, stopping by the desk to pick up a screen and an old 16-mm. projector left there by the Rams. All NFL officiating teams watch films of their previous week's game, which are prepared and graded by Art McNally, a former NFL official who now is supervisor of NFL officials.

Toler turned on the projector, and for the next two hours they watched themselves darting in and out of the action in the San Francisco-Dallas game, claiming the ball after every play, throwing flags, keeping the game moving. Out of the darkness would come an occasional remark.

"Good coverage on the clip, Burl."

"Hey, Tommy, good jump, Tommy."

"Let's run that one back."

"What d'you have, Fritz?"

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