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Officials’ cold weather uniforms beat garbage bags of yesteryear



We’ve all seen those late season brutally cold games.  The coaches are wearing layers.  The players sit on heated benches and warm their hands in front of red-hot blowers.  The players enjoy those luxuries when they are on the bench, but for the official, he never comes out of the game.  He must stay on the field.  He cannot “take five” to go to the sideline or locker room to thaw out.  Officials have to tough it out no matter what.  How do they do it?  The technology for keeping officials warm has come a long way in 50 years.

Referee Norm Schachter tries to stay warm during the 1967 NFL Championship Game. Known as the “Ice Bowl,” the game in Green Bay is still the coldest NFL game ever at −15 °F. Schachter would be jealous of today’s cold weather official’s uniform.

During the 1960s and ’70s the officials were issued socks, shoes, knickers, and a double knit-polyester short and long sleeve shirt.  When the weather got cold the officials had to improvise.  The officials would wear head bands to protect their ears and gloves to protect their hands.  That’s all well and good, but the officials needed a little more to protect the rest of their body.  Over time, the officials back then came up with some pretty ingenious methods.  In addition to thermal long johns, the officials would cut holes in either a large garbage bag or a dry cleaning bag and slip that on underneath the knickers and shirt.  That would keep the wind and rain out.  Finally, to protect their feet, the officials would take plastic bread bags, put those bags on their feet and then put the socks shoes on.  Former NFL referee John McDonough said that the socks and shoes would be freezing cold while his feet would be sweating inside the bread bags.  Officials would rub cocoa butter on their faces; not only did it taste good, but it prevented frostbite.

Over the years, the NFL worked with the officials to help them come up with better cold fighting techniques.  The NFL issued their officials the latest in cold weather undergarments, a foul weather hood (like a ski mask), and a waist pouch to help keep their hands warm.  But, perhaps the biggest innovation in weather fighting gear was introducing black pants in 2006.  The knickers were designed to be tight-fitting and there was only so much an official could layer underneath.  The introduction of the black pants allowed the officials to put on multiple layers of weather fighting gear.  The long-sleeve cold weather jersey is specially modified to be larger to allow for multiple layers.

The officials of the famed Ice Bowl would be jealous of today’s cold weather technology offered to the officials!

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"