Football Zebras™

Suspending referees uncommon in NFL

6 known suspensions of officials for on-field incidents

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The NFL rarely has suspended officials for their conduct on the field, although it is possible that some may have occurred without public knowledge. Also, there are two known cases of officials (not included here) who were originally assigned to the Super Bowl and had that assignment revoked because of a call in a playoff game.

The five six known cases of suspension are listed below. (Updated 4/24/14 to include Gerry Hart.)

Roy Ellison, umpire, 2013

Ellison was suspended for “profane and derogatory comments” towards Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams in Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

Armen Terzian, replay judge, 1988 (2 games)

Terzian — the official who was called in a famous NFL Films clip an “over-officious jerk” — was supposed to correct a missed enforcement of a safety that should have been ruled a touchback during a Sept. 18, 1988, Giants-Cowboys game (see postscript at the linked story). Terzian was suspended for two games, but technically did not serve out the suspension, because he retired immediately. (In the first incarnation of replay, the term “replay judge” was used.)

Jack Fette, line judge, 1984

According to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, line judge Jack Fette was suspended “for conduct towards fans” during a Nov. 18, 1984, Seahawks-Bengals game. [h/t Ian Rapoport]

Fette was also suspended as part of a crew error, listed below, in 1968.

Dale Hamer, head linesman;
Bama Glass, line judge, 1980

In a Dec. 14, 1980, game between the Houston Oilers and the Green Bay Packers, a fumble return at the end of the game was allowed to stand even though a penalty was committed. Because the game was already in hand with only seconds remaining, it was an unwritten policy at the time to not call a penalty in such a situation. Allegedly, one of the officials told Packers coach Bart Starr “time and situation: that doesn’t get called.” The league suspended both for postseason assignments. While time/situation was widely employed at the time, the league had recently added certain point-based criteria deep down in the playoff tiebreaker methods, and such an unwritten policy could, in wildly extraordinary circumstances, affect a playoff seeding.

After the issue came up during a meeting with the playoff-bound officials and supervisor of officiating Art McNally, Glass received a Pro Bowl assignment and Hamer apparently was paid for a postseason game. (Hamer went on to become a referee, and is now a replay official.)

[h/t Fred Wyant, Offsides!]

Gerry Hart, umpire, 1977 (2 games)

While trailing the Baltimore Colts, the Buffalo Bills should have had time  to run a final play in a game on Oct. 1, 1977. Umpire Gerry Hart was standing over the ball when it was spotted at 14 seconds, which is a proper officiating mechanic. However, the league office determined that Hart should have stepped away with six seconds remaining on the clock, based on a review of the tape and a signal given by referee Dick Jorgensen. The Bills lost 17-14.

[h/t teo at Behind the Football Stripes]

Norm Schachter, referee;
Joe Connell, umpire;
Burl Toler, head linesman;
Jack Fette, line judge;
Adrian Burke, back judge;
George Ellis, field judge, 1968

Norm Schachter’s crew was suspended after they lost track of the downs during a Dec. 8, 1968, Los Angeles Rams-Chicago Bears game. The Rams were penalized for offensive holding (at the time, a whopping 15-yard penalty from the foul spot), but Schachter and his crew did not replay the down. (At the time, there were only six officials on the crew; the side judge was added in 1978.)

The statement from NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle on the Tuesday after the game:

National Football League game officials erred in not permitting Los Angeles one more down near the end of the Rams game with the Chicago Bears Sunday.

A penalty against Los Angeles on the first down of its final series nullified an incomplete pass play. Following three additional incomplete passes by Los Angeles, the ball was turned over to Chicago, thus depriving Los Angeles of a fourth down play to which it was entitled.

Los Angeles would have started the fourth down from its own 47-yard line with five seconds to play and 31 yards needed for a first down.

All six game officials are equally responsible for keeping track of the downs.

The crew which officiated the Los Angeles-Chicago game is considered among the most competent in pro football. However, because all six must bear responsibility for the error, the entire crew will receive no further assignments for the remainder of the 1968 NFL season, including post-season games.

(Note: This game was on the NFL Game of the Week. There was a Youtube link, which is now broken. If you find a working one, let us know.)

Mark Schultz contributed to this report. Image: Baltimore Ravens photo

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