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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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"We'll want two time-outs the first quarter, three the second," said Chuck. "The introductions will start at oh-fifty-eight. You'll take your cues from Jim here. Any questions?"

Bell turned to the kid, Jim, and told him what he wanted:

"The only thing I really ask of you is to please, please look at me at all times. There's nothing worse than for me to be in big trouble and looking for a signal and see you off talking to someone. I'll look at you and give you this [he pointed to the ground] and you give me this [another signal] if you need a time-out, or this [signal] if you don't."

A half hour before kickoff, the Bell team had suited up and was poised at the end of the tunnel, ready to sprint on the field. "We always run out," said Bell, "because we hope that when the crowd sees us hustling, their boos will turn to cheers."

There were only a few perfunctory hoots as they sprinted into the sunlight and set about their various responsibilities. Bell went directly to the center of the field, his main job being to gather the game captains and toss the coin. Later, on TV, the ceremony would be simulated to let the folks at home know how the official toss had come out.

After Bell and the captains had shaken hands all around, he tossed the coin. The Vikings won and elected to receive. The Rams decided to defend the west goal, opposite the Coliseum scoreboard. This settled. Bell made the appropriate gestures for the benefit of those fans already in the stands, then trotted to the Rams' bench and picked up a telephone to talk to the public-address announcer in the press box.

"Hello, this is Tommy Bell," he said. "How are you? I'm doing something new this year, giving a preliminary signal. In other words, I'll come out and signal—say it's offsides—and then go back and talk to the captains. This will give you a chance to tell the people what's happening. Then I'll break back and give the final signal, and you can announce the decision."

Bell also stopped to chat with the head coaches, George Allen of the Rams and Bud Grant of Minnesota.

"This is just to make sure that they're not doing anything different, like that end-around play that Kansas City uses," Bell said later. "If they are, we like to know about it so we don't get run over. You know, out there we're treated just like a blade of grass—we can get run over just as easily if we're not alert."

His chores completed, Bell led his crew back to the dressing room for the final conference.

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