For two years, Football Zebras has suggested that the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrine game officials. We have been pushing the cause for Art McNally and, inexplicably, this year when the Hall of Fame all but threw the doors open, they snubbed McNally. When the Hall voters decide to remove this inexplicable barrier, our list of nominees can be used as a road map for candidates, including those who are not well known to the football masses, much like how beat writers are the first line for advocating for each of their team’s candidates.
Compared with other halls of fame, Canton stands alone.
Currently, Hugh “Shorty” Ray is in the Hall of Fame (Class of 1966). He is frequently cited as an “officiating figure,” but he was not a pro official, nor was he a supervisor of officials. He was the technical adviser on rules matters to the commissioner, and frequently worked with officials on interpretation and mechanics.
With that, we have added four new candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
- 2018: Art McNally
- 2019: Jerry Markbreit, Jim Tunney, Burl Toler, and Stan Javie
- 2020: Jerry Bergman, Sr., Ron Botchan, Tom Kelleher, and Bob Beeks
Jerry Bergman, Sr.
Jerry Bergman Sr. officiated in the NFL from 1966-1995 at the head linesman position for his entire 30-year career. He is one of only six officials in the 30 Club: officials who officiated 30 or more seasons. Bergman wore the number 17 throughout his career. He is the father of current NFL officials Jeff and Jerry Bergman.
Bergman had to overcome physical trauma and disability at a young age. In the book The Third Team, Jeff Bergman tells of how his father at age seven almost lost his arm when it got caught in a tractor engine. Doctors wanted to amputate his arm, but Bergman’s father convinced the physician to save Jerry’s arm. He completed second grade in the hospital. He never learned to swim because he spent every summer vacation for 16 years having reconstructive surgery. Bergman prevailed from his early tragedy, however, as he became the starting quarterback for his high school football team.
Bergman joined the NFL officiating ranks in 1966, the first season of the Super Bowl era. Early in Bergman’s career, Mark Duncan, supervisor of officials from 1964-1968, suggested that Bergman become a referee. Bergman declined the offer to wear the white hat (well, they were all white at the time, but I digress), saying he loved working the sideline and enjoyed the in-game interactions with the coaches and players. I think it’s safe to say he made the right decision to stay on the sideline.
Bergman officiated 24 postseason games, including 3 Wild Card Playoffs, 13 Divisional Playoffs, 4 Conference Championships, and Super Bowls XIII, XVI, XVIII and XXIII. Bergman was still an active official when his son, Jeff, joined the NFL in 1991. The two worked a preseason game together marking the first time a father-son combination worked the same game. His son Jerry joined the NFL after his dad retired. In The Third Team, Jeff said that his father’s record is even more impressive than his postseason resume appeared. When referee Ben Dreith sued the NFL for age discrimination, the NFL had to hand over all of the officials’ grades. Jeff said,
Through discovery, it turns out my dad should have worked eight Super Bowls. He was ranked number one at his position eight times. He was either one or two at his position for, like, 25 years. That’s because he worked at it. He was passionate about officiating.
Off the field, Bergman worked in the Allegheny County tax assessor’s office in Pennsylvania. He was also instrumental in helping create the NFL Referees Association, and was secretary-treasurer of the union for 18 years. Due to his career accomplishments, his remarkable playoff record, seen and unseen, and his devotion to officiating post-retirement, Jerry Bergman is due for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ron Botchan officiated in the NFL from 1980-2001, working at the line judge position in his rookie season, and as an umpire in the remaining 21 years of his career. He wore the number 110 for the majority of his career.
Botchan played for the Los Angeles Chargers and Houston Oilers of the American Football League’s first two seasons, but retired prior to the 1962 season due to a knee injury. Botchan’s officiating career began in 1972, and he was later hired by the Pac-8 Conference (now the Pac-12) as an umpire in the late 1970s.
Botchan applied to the NFL at the recommendation of retired referee Norm Schachter. In the book The Third Team, Botchan recounted that supervisor Art McNally asked Botchan if he would mind working as a line judge in his first season as there were no openings at umpire. Botchan never worked as a line judge, but accepted the offer. He was assigned to officiate on Jerry Seeman’s crew for his rookie season, in 1980, and was told by McNally at the conclusion of the regular season that he was graded number one at the line judge position. So, in an unprecedented move, McNally assigned Botchan to a Divisional Playoff game in his rookie season. Botchan is only one of two officials in the Super Bowl era who officiated a playoff game in their rookie season.
Botchan moved to umpire beginning in 1981 and served on crews led by some of the great referees, including Gordon McCarter, Fred Silva, Dick Jorgensen, Jerry Seeman, Howard Roe, Phil Luckett, Tony Corrente, and Bill Leavy. Botchan was assigned to 25 postseason games, including 6 Wild Card Playoffs, 6 Divisional Playoffs, 8 Conference Championships, and Super Bowls XX, XXVII, XXIX, XXXI, and XXXIV. He is one of only five officials assigned to officiate five Super Bowls.
Off the field, Botchan was a professor of health education and fitness at Los Angeles City College. After retiring following the 2001 season, Botchan continued to serve the NFL as an umpire trainer and he continues to mentor new NFL officials. For his exceptional playoff resume and continued effort to teach the next generation of officiating, Ron Botchan is well-deserving of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tom Kelleher worked in the NFL from 1960-1987 and he was a back judge (now called field judge) his entire 28 seasons and wore number 25 for most of his career.
Kelleher served many years but he worked with few referees. He was on Tommy Bell’s crew for 15 seasons, and was on Jerry Markbreit’s crew for 11 seasons. Kelleher was Markbreit’s sideline partner during Markbreit’s rookie year in 1976. After that season, Bell retired and Kelleher was instrumental in persuading Art McNally to name Markbreit Bell’s successor.
Kelleher’s career began before NFL and AFL merger. Before the merger, Kelleher worked a total of four NFL title games, including The Ice Bowl.
In total, Kelleher worked 26 playoff games in 28 seasons. This is significant, because the wild card games didn’t exist until 1978. He worked a total of two wild card games, eight divisional games, 11 conference championships (counting the four NFL title games pre-merger) and a record tying five Super Bowls (IV, VII, XI, XV and XIX).
His first Super Bowl created one of the great moments thanks to NFL Films putting a microphone on Chiefs coach Hank Stram.
In is book, Last Call: Memoirs of a NFL Referee, Markbreit credits Kelleher for his early success in the NFL. He said Kelleher provided support and stability as Markbreit was finding his way in the NFL.
Kelleher also was a stickler about penalty enforcements. He would make a circle and divide it up into sections. Markbreit said the crew nicknamed the drawing “TK’s pie.” He said that if an officials could put the foul in the right hopper (running plays, passing plays, kicking plays, fouls after change of possession), the crew would always get the right enforcement. TK’s pie was the forerunner of Ed Hochuli’s Hopperbook.
Because of amazing run of playoff assignments, his mentoring of fellow officials and his rules acumen, Tom Kelleher deserves enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bob Beeks was a NFL line judge from 1968-1989. He wore number 59 for most of his career and was a line judge his entire career.
Beeks worked with several excellent referees over the years. In the 1970s he worked on crews lead by Pat Haggerty and Cal Lepore. Beeks was on Lepore’s crew in 1978 when he was witness to the first “Miracle at the Meadowlands.” In the 1980s Beeks worked on crews lead by Bob Fredric, Jim Tunney, and Jerry Markbreit. Beeks was line judge on Markbreit’s crew as Markbreit rose in prominence and he worked many high-profile games with the talented referee.
In his 23 seasons, Beeks worked 23 playoff games on the field: five wild card games, 10 divisional playoffs, three conference championships and a record-tying five Super Bowls (XIV, XVI, XVIII, XXI and XXIII).
From 1979 to 1989, if you were a line judge and you wanted to work the Super Bowl, Beeks stood in your way. Officials couldn’t be assigned back-to-back games. But, in those 11 seasons, Beeks worked five of the Super Bowls.
Off the field, Beeks was a St. Louis police officer. On the field, Beeks was known as a no-nonsense official who kept control on his sideline.
Because of his high-achieving career, Bob Beeks deserves enshrinement on the Pro Football Hall of Fame.