In honor of LV.
That means it’s the 55th year of the Super Bowl in roman numerals.
Norm Schachter, it should be noted, was suspended along with his entire six-man crew, by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. During a crucial game between Los Angeles and Chicago on Dec. 8, 1968, Schachter’s crew denied the Rams a critical down in a 17-16 loss to the Bears.
Fifteen years later, I had a chance to ask Schachter about the play.
About the call. About the suspension. Years earlier, he’d been an English teacher. In Redlands. One of his first jobs. He also started officiating in those days.
Rozelle, who played his part in Redlands during his days as the Rams’ public relations man, called the crew “competent.” Yes, the Rams trained at the local university from 1947 through 1960.
In that 1968 game, though, the Rams had thrown three incomplete passes in the final minute. A penalty flag was thrown into the mix. The down, however, was not replayed.
“The ball was turned over to Chicago,” Rozelle said in his statement, “thus depriving Los Angeles of a fourth down play to which it was entitled.”
Five seconds were remaining. Ball at L.A.’s 47. Thirty-one yards were needed for a first down.
If you’ve been watching NFL Network’s annual showcase of Super Bowls, which began in 1967, you will have spotted Schachter. He was the head official in that inaugural Green Bay-Kansas City game.
Schachter was a class act. He came to Redlands a few times during my years at the local newspaper. Most of those visits came in the 1980s and 1990s.
I think guys like former student Jim Sloan, a high-profile local photographer who, among others, were happy to pronounce a connection to a guy that had a bird’s eye view of pro football.
Schachter was generous to me with his time and comments.
Redlands, he said, “was a very nice little community when I taught and reffed here.”
Schachter carried around a significant sense of humor. He proved it with some of his responses.
I spent several minutes prepping for my interview with him. Was there ever a moment where you made a bad call — and knew it? (The suspension question would come later.)
“I don’t waste time second-guessing myself,” he said. “There’ll be millions who will do it for you.”
Talk on an NFL field must be pretty horrifying.
“Oh, really?” he said. “I never heard that.”
Sarcasm was a nice little exercise for Schachter, who probably heard it all.
“Listen,” he said, “when players lose it in their legs, they gain it in their mouths.”
Oh, yeah. Sloan told me to ask him about the time his crew had been suspended.
Refs aren’t perfect, though that’s the expectation. That December 1968 game between the Rams and Bears might have been his lowest point.
“Holding call on the Rams,” he said, explaining the suspension. “Fifteen yards in those days. Spot foul, too. We didn’t replay the down. That was the issue.”
He looked at me. Anything else? Seemed like he was saying, “I dare you to ask me anything more about it.”
I took the dare. “How many times have you been asked about that?”
That drew a slight chuckle. “I lost count around 20,000 …”
There were only six-men crews in that era. It wasn’t until 1978 that a side judge was added, making NFL officiating crews a seven-man unit.
“Pete hit us pretty hard with the suspension,” he said. “No more games for the rest of that season, including the playoffs. We were back the following season.”
CLOSE CALLS & CONFESSIONS
He’d written “Close Calls: Confessions of an NFL Referee” in the early 1980s. The guy was an author. An official of famous NFL games. Never read the book. Can only guess how it was presented.
He also wrote text books. After his on-field days concluded, he worked for the league writing referees’ exams and other data. He edited the league’s rules book.
His “Confessions” book: Stories, humorous anecdotes, nuggets about his professional career in education. After starting as a Redlands English teacher in 1941, Schachter eventually became a principal at Los Angeles High School, later surfacing as superintendent (1971-78) in the L.A. school system.
All the appropriate names were in “Confessions” – Lombardi, Starr, Butkus, Papa Bear, Shula, Madden, Paul Brown, Van Brocklin, you name it. Hired by Commissioner Bert Bell in the 1950s – $100 a game, seven-game minimum.
“No,” Schachter said, “none of those guys ever spent time buying me dinner and drinks.”
He retired following the 1976 Super Bowl, Pittsburgh’s 21-17 win over Dallas — Schachter’s third Super Bowl. He’d worked Green Bay’s 35-10 win over Kansas City, then Super Bowl V when Baltimore beat Dallas, 16-13, plus the Steelers-Cowboys finale.
Twenty-two years in the striped shirt. Brooklyn-born, a U.S. Marine, married to Charlotte for 56 years, sired three sons, Bob, Tom and Jim.
Schachter studied for a doctorate at Alfred University in New York. For Schachter, the end came in San Pedro. Age 90. Died in an old folks home.
It was a long way from the famous Green Bay-Dallas “Ice Bowl” game where he was spotted wearing ear muffs in freezing weather.
All of which led to Super Bowl I.
Super Bowl LV plays on.
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