SI Vault
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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"What happened is that Burl thought the tackle jumped after being in a three-point stance," Bell explained, "but he couldn't see for sure because of the end. He threw the flag anyway, but I told him the tackle wasn't in his three-point stance yet. We had to eat it [the flag] but it was still a great call. There was no harm done."

The second half was even smoother, with Bell's only problem being a brief flare-up between Roman Gabriel, the Rams' 6'4" quarterback, and Carl Eller, the Vikings' 6'6" defensive end. All afternoon Eller had been crashing through the Rams' blockers, harassing Gabriel, and this time Roman, his dark face livid behind his helmet bars, seemed to feel he had been hit a bit too hard. Before the dispute could get beyond the frowning stage, however, here came Bell, all 5'8" and 168 pounds of him, tooting his whistle and pushing the giants apart.

The game ended with the Vikings running out the clock to preserve a 20-13 victory, their 11th in a row and the Rams' first loss of the year. On the way to the dressing room, Bell was stopped by Jack Pardee, the Rams' left linebacker and defensive captain. As Bell happily reported to his fellow officials later, "He said, 'By God, you guys did a great job.' How about that? That's quite a compliment, coming from the losing captain. I'll take that one anytime."

Before taking a shower, each official handed Bell his 8" by 5" orange game card, on which had been put information recorded during the game, such as the number of time-outs, number and type of penalties called, uniform numbers of the players causing the penalties and whether the penalties had been declined or accepted. It is Bell's job to compile the information on the individual cards and put it on a white card headed Game Summary. This is mailed, along with the orange Official's Game Report cards, to McNally, the supervisor of officials, at league headquarters in New York City. On Monday, Bell also calls McNally to report anything unusual, controversial or unsportsmanlike on the part of coaches, players or fans. After taking the phone call, receiving the cards and looking at films, McNally prepares a critique and sends it to Bell.

"It was a good game to call," said Bell, stuffing his uniform into his travel bag. "There were a lot of good whistles out there. We didn't have to speak to anybody, and there was nothing even close to piling on—and I think that was because of good officiating."

The only thing Bell's crew missed all day was the 5 p.m. flight that three of the officials—Bell, Graf and Jorgensen—had planned to take to Chicago, where they would go their separate ways until meeting again the following Saturday night in St. Louis for the Cardinal-Brown game. With a sigh, Bell checked the plane schedules and announced that now he wouldn't get back to Cincinnati until nearly 5 a.m. Monday, only five hours before a meeting with a client in Columbus, Ohio.

"Yeah," said Jorgensen, "and I have to be at work at 8 a.m., after driving 150 miles from Chicago."

To kill time, they went to an airport lounge and sat down to drink coffee and watch TV. The evening sports roundup featured taped highlights of the day's game. After the film, a man sitting next to Bell turned and shook his head.

"Gee," he said, "some game, huh?"

"Yeah," said Tommy Bell, again reminded of his anonymity. "It was all right."

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