Football Zebras
NewsWayback machine: When Walt Coleman entered the league in 1989

Wayback machine: When Walt Coleman entered the league in 1989

Walt Coleman worked his first NFL game as a line judge on September 10, 1989, between the Bears and Bengals. Mike Ditka and Sam Wyche were the coaches on the sideline. The future head of officiating Jerry Seeman was the referee. The head of officiating that season was Art McNally, and Coleman is the last official to retire who McNally hired.

Some other facts about the NFL and life in 1989:

  • The NFL had 28 teams. The Jaguars, Panthers, Ravens and Texans did not exist. The (original) Browns beat the Steelers in the season opener 51-0.
  • The Raiders played in Los Angeles and the Tennessee Titans were the Houston Oilers. The Phoenix Cardinals started their second season in Arizona after moving from St. Louis.
  • The playoffs had 5 teams per conference, with all division winners getting a bye, and only “wild-card teams” played the Wild Card Playoff (1 game per conference)
  • Of the 27 stadiums in use by the NFL at that time, 7 are still hosting NFL games. Oakland Coliseum was not used for NFL games at the time, but the Raiders played at the L.A. Coliseum, which the Rams use currently. Atlanta’s Georgia Dome would be built and demolished during the span of his career.
  • An NFC team had won the 5th consecutive Super Bowl, a streak that would end at 13 straight. The 49ers would cap the season with an anticlimactic 55-10 win over the Broncos.
  • The league established a procedure that season where timeouts and penalties could be charged to the home team if the crowd made too much noise.
  • Pete Rozelle was the commissioner and had announced his retirement in the offseason. Paul Tagliabue would take over in November 1989.
  • George H.W. Bush was in his first year as president.
  • The World Wide Web was invented that year, but it would be another year before a web browser existed. Fantasy football was done by paper by people who liked to do a lot of math and had access to a fax machine.
  • Motorola introduced the first flip-style phone, meaning for the first time, and for a lot of money, you did not have to use a car phone to make a mobile call.
  • Fox had only established a partial-week primetime schedule 2 years previously, and had not yet broadcast its first NFL game. CBS had a contract for NFC games, and NBC carried AFC games on Sunday afternoon. Sunday night games were only played in the second half of the season, meaning the 60 Minutes intro signaled the end of football for the day (followed by Murder, She Wrote). TNT would get the first-half Sunday night package the next year, originally aired as TNT Sunday Nitro.
  • The replay official could essentially review any play and could make any correction with the exception of calling or reversing penalties. The system was fraught with long delays and technical problems, leading to the first-generation system being scrapped in 1992.
  • Two-point conversions could only be scored in college and high school games.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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