Former NFL umpire Art Demmas died August 6 in Nashville at the age of 82, according to Mike Organ of The Tennessean. Demmas was originally hired by the American Football League and continued in the NFL beginning in 1970 after the two leagues merged.
Born in St. Louis, Demmas earned fame as a player at Vanderbilt University. He helped the program reach the 1955 Gator Bowl — the first bowl game for Vanderbilt, its only bowl game for the next 19 seasons and the school’s only bowl victory until the 2008 Music City Bowl.
After serving his country in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps, Demmas began his officiating career, calling high school games and then working his way up to college football in the Southeastern Conference. Demmas joined the AFL in 1968, worked as an umpire and wore number 78 during his NFL career.
Those early years were tough years on an umpire. The mechanics called for the umpire to line up 5 yards behind the defensive line of scrimmage (compared to 6 to 8 yards later, and now in the offensive backfield). A successful umpire such as Demmas had to dart and dodge and play through pain.
In a 1992 game, a running back hit Demmas in the chest with his helmet. He needed surgery to repair a cracked sternum, and he also suffered severely bruised lungs. He developed pneumonia, then bronchiectasis, a condition that scarred tissue cause the lungs continually fill with fluid. According to a 1996 Sports Illustrated article, he was constantly on antibiotics and his wife had to pound his back to help drain the lungs.
Demmas told SI, “That stuff comes with the job. I never seriously thought about quitting.”
Demmas worked for several years in the NFL with fellow AFL referee Ben Dreith. He joined Red Cashion’s crew starting in 1977 and the duo worked together for 11 seasons.
In a comment to Football Zebras, Cashion remembered his partnership with Demmas.
Art was a man’s man and he helped me so much as a referee.We worked together for 11 years in the NFL. We were a team. He was a marvelous umpire. He was a very good friend and I will miss him very much.
As a veteran, Demmas broke in new referees and served as a steadying influence for a new white hat. After working for one season with veteran referee Fred Wyant, Demmas worked with Johnny Grier in his first season as a referee. A few seasons later, Demmas broke in new referee Stan Kemp (father of current official Alex Kemp). The very next season, the veteran umpire broke in Ed Hochuli at the referee position.
Demmas was on the crew that helped Hochuli sort out the end of the Thanksgiving Day game in 1993 when Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett muffed a blocked field goal attempt by the Dolphins (video).
He continued breaking in new referees, helping Ron Blum and Mike Carey learn the ropes at the referee position, before he retired in 1996.
Why did the NFL have Demmas work with so many new referees? Because he was that good, and a strong umpire is often paired with a new white hat. But, former NFL official Steve Wilson told Football Zebras that it was more than just that:
When I came into the league in 1999 I was introduced to Art. I knew that he was a legend, but you would never know this man officiated four Super Bowls and countless postseason assignments. He was far more concerned about my success and helping me be the best I could be. I was not alone, he poured his energy into every new official that came into the league. He was a selfless man of great character. You don’t find many individuals like Art. He truly made a difference in my life.
After Demmas retired from the field, he continued to work for the NFL as an officiating trainer. He also served as the Southern Coordinator of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. He was enshrined into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
His obituary appears below. Our sympathies to all who knew him and loved him.
Top images:National Football Foundation & College Football Hall of Fame and Grey Flannel Auctions for Football Zebras graphic; Vanderbilt University
Arthur George “Art” Demmas
Art Demmas, age 82, passed away peacefully on Aug. 6, 2016 at Alive Hospice in Nashville, surrounded by his wife and daughters.
Born in St. Louis to Greek parents, he excelled in sports, most notably football at St. Louis University High School, but also baseball and handball.
Demmas graduated from Vanderbilt University where he lettered all four years in football, played on the 1955 Gator Bowl Championship team, and was co-captain in 1956 when he was also an Academic All-American.
After college, he served in the U.S. Army, earning the rank of captain in the counterintelligence corps.
Legendary sportswriter Fred Russell encouraged him to get into officiating, which he did, working high school and SEC games until breaking into the American Football League in 1967. He continued to work as an umpire in the NFL until 1996, and officiated four Super Bowls (XIII, XVII, XXV and XXVIII).
Russell and Demmas also founded the Nashville Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, where Demmas would serve as the regional coordinator for 17 years after retiring from a career as an insurance and estate planning executive.
He was also past president of Hillwood Country Club, Vanderbilt Commodore Club and the NFL Referees’ Association.
Demmas was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and Order of Ahepa Hellenic Athlete Hall of Fame in 1999.
Preceded in death by parents Alexandra Demmas and George Demmas, sister Frieda D. Regas (Lloyd), brothers Dan Demmas and Con Demmas.
Survived by his wife Nancy Baughcum Demmas, daughter Suzanne D. Myers (Jim) and Frieda D. Mullowney (Jim), grandchildren George Mullowney, Wyatt Mullowney and Arthur Myers, sisters-in-law Helen Demmas and Mary Demmas, and numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.
Pallbearers are Jim Mullowney, Jim Myers, George Mullowney, Arthur Myers, Chris Regas, George Demmas, Nicholas Sansone, John E. Cain and Don Orr.
Honorary pallbearers are members of the Nashville Chefs Club and the 1955 Vanderbilt Gator Bowl Team.
Visitation will be held on Thursday, Aug. 11 from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (4905 Franklin Pk.) immediately followed by funeral services at noon. Internment afterward at Harpeth Hills Cemetery (9090 Hwy. 100).
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the following:
St. John Chrysostom Greek Orthodox Church
P.O. Box 90162
Nashville, TN 37209
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
4905 Franklin Pk.
Nashville, TN 37220