Connect with us

Outside the Stripes

Former NFL official Barnes reflects on his career



Tom Barnes was a NFL line judge for 26 seasons

This past fall was the first one in 44 seasons that Tom Barnes wasn’t enforcing football rules.  The 69-year old Barnes (who wore uniform number 55) retired after a 26 year career as a NFL official.  The Saint Paul, Minn., native worked 513 NFL games, counting preseason, regular season, and post season.  He worked 17 playoff games, including three Pro Bowls, six conference championship games, and Super Bowl XXVIII. 

“Being a NFL official was a tremendous honor.  I was very humbled and blessed to do it,” Barnes says.  “After 26 years, it was time to hang it up.  I have no regrets.”

Tom Barnes worked as a line judge in the NFL for 26 years. He retired just before the start of the 2012 season.

Barnes reflects on the memories of working with his crew-mates and how that will the thing he will miss most.  “The people involved in the NFL are good quality.  Being an official is like being in a fraternity.  I could could be in any city and call any former NFL official and immediately be able to go to lunch with them,” Barnes comments.  Barnes’ rookie year was in 1986, and he started working on Dick Jorgensen’s crew.  Over the years, Barnes worked on crews lead by Jerry Seeman, Ben Dreith, Johnny Grier, Larry Nemmers, Gerald Austin, Howard Roe, Tony Corrente, Bernie Kukar, Gene Steratore, Mike Carey, and Scott Green.  Barnes says working on Dreith’s crew was an experience, saying the venerable referee had “great judgement” and “did things his own way.”  Barnes adds that Dreith was a Navy frogman during World War II, and due to spending so much time underwater, he lost part of his hearing.  Barnes says he and his fellow crew mates always had to speak up, or sometimes shout, when communicating with Dreith during a game.

One thing Barnes wishes the fans would understand about officiating is how much time he and his colleagues spent preparing for a game.  Barnes says he and his crew were constantly calling and emailing each other during the week rehashing last week’s game, reviewing grade reports from the supervisors, reviewing video, studying for rules tests, taking rules tests, traveling to the next game, holding crew meetings, studying more game tape, and then finally working the game.  Barnes says he even used his exercise time to improve as an official by creating scenarios in his mind and trying to solve the play or rule question while out on a run.  He says even though NFL officials are classified as part-time employees, they work full-time hours.

In relating the time spent to study to be a NFL official, Barnes had a few thoughts about the replacement officials who worked during this season’s lockout of members of the NFL Referees’ Association.  Barnes says the replacements had no experience in working the pro game and weren’t ready for the speed of the NFL.  “It takes one to two years to learn the speed of the game.  They had no veterans on their crew to help them.  It was tough.  I felt sorry for them,” Barnes says.

For Barnes, there was one bright spot about this past season’s lockout.  He was able to reflect on a summer and fall without football.  “I kind of liked it,” Barnes adds.  Barnes also observes that in looking at the game film, he could tell that time was catching up to him.  “For an official, either the mind is first to go or the legs are the first to go.  For me, I think both went,” he quips.  “I looked at the tapes.  I have my pride.  I was able to go out on my terms which makes me feel good.  I’ve had my day,” Barnes comments.

Barnes is still around football officiating as he is helping evaluate college officials for the Big 10 (where Barnes worked his college ball), Midwestern Athletic (MAC), Missouri Valley, and Big Sky conferences.  He and his wife now enjoy wintering in The Villages in Florida, and leaving sub-zero temperatures behind in Saint Paul.

Congratulations to Tom Barnes on a great career in the NFL.

Image: Provided by Tom Barnes via City Pages

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?"