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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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"The guy in the middle...there, what about that?"

"O.K., O.K., good block."

They broke up early to get a good night's sleep.

At 7:45 a.m. Sunday they were all back in the lobby ready to attend church together, another matter of routine that, in Bell's words, "makes us feel closer as a team." Joined by Art McNally, they squeezed into a rented yellow station wagon and, with Harder at the wheel, drove to Our Precious Blood Church. The three Catholics of the crew—Kelleher, Graf and Toler—always manage to overrule the three Presbyterians on matters of religion. After church they ate a hearty breakfast, the only meal they would have until boarding their planes home after the game. Then they drove back to the hotel and assembled again in the St. Louis Room, where Bell began hitting them with the questions he had dug out of his black book on the plane.

"O.K., Burl, what's the basic spot for taking a free kick, with two exceptions?"

His brow wrinkled, Toler rattled off the answer.

"Good, Burl. How about taking the backward pass and fumble for us, Dick?"

Again the staccato answer, and so the meeting went for an hour, with each man being asked to recite in detail the specific responsibilities of his job. Thirty minutes before the game, for example, Graf and Kelleher were to inspect the held and report its condition to the referee; Toler was to check out the first-down markers and the chain gang.

"O.K.," said Bell, shutting his black book. "Our communication has been good lately—let's follow the same procedure. One thing you all ought to be alert for is these guys Kapp and Gabriel...they are so strong they can pass even when they're going down, which could create some difficult calls."

At 11:30 a.m., exactly 90 minutes before kickoff time, the Bell crew was ushered into a small dressing room off a tunnel leading out to the field. Waiting next to Bell's locker was a kid from CBS, and soon he was joined by a producer. Chuck, looking very chic in a white turtleneck and double-breasted burgundy blazer. Besides officiating, Bell serves CBS as sort of on-field master of ceremonies, staging the pregame coin flip and seeing to it that the time-outs will correspond with the commercials.

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