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Former NFL official Jerry Bergman passes away

Former NFL official Jerry Bergman, one of the best ever, and father of two current NFL officials has died at age 87.



Gerard Bergman 1929-2017

Gerard R. “Jerry” Bergman, officiating patriarch who had two sons follow his footsteps to the NFL, passed away in May. He was 87, and had suffered from dementia for the last few years.

Bergman wore number 17 on his jersey his entire career.

The elder 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. Some boys were warming their hands in the exhaust. Someone bumped Jerry from behind and he fell into the engine. The doctor wanted to amputate his arm, but Bergman’s father prevailed on the physician to save Jerry’s arm. Jeff said his father completed the second grade in the hospital. He never learned to swim because he spent every summer vacation for 16 years having reconstructive surgery.

The NFL comes calling

Even with his disability, Bergman was the quarterback of his high school football team. Former Steelers chairman Dan Rooney was his backup. He began officiating football and by 1966, he made it to the NFL. He worked in the NFL as a head linesman from 1966 to 1995 — one five officials to work 30 years on the field.

Early in his career, supervisor of officials, Mark Duncan, suggested that Bergman become a referee. Bergman declined, saying he loved working the sideline and enjoyed the interaction with the coaches and players.

“Blind as a bat”

Bergman made a great call during a Dolphins-Bills game in 1975, but he and his family suffered as a result. Late in the game, the Bills were trailing by three but had momentum. A Bills defender upended the Dolphins’ Mercury Morris who came down on his head and shoulder and fumbled the ball. Buffalo recovered the fumble in Dolphins territory. Bergman ruled that when Morris landed on his head, he was down by contact. Bergman gave the ball back to the Dolphins who scored a touchdown two plays later to salt the game away. 

After the game, Bills owner Ralph Wilson told the press he wanted Bergman fired. His family received death threats and had FBI protection.

The NFL said Bergman made the correct call but that didn’t quell the furor.

Several years later, Bergman talked about the game to NFL Films. He said he received two humorous letters among the death threats. One came to him addressed “Blind as a Bat, Pittsburgh, PA,” and the post man knew exactly who to deliver it to. Another came from a woman who thanked Bergman for the call. After the game her husband swore he’d never watch football again. The wife said she’d been trying to get her husband to turn off football for years.

Top ranked most of his career

Bergman worked four Super Bowls (XIII, XVI, XVIII and XXIII), and scores of playoff games. In The Third Team, Jeff Bergman says that his father’s record is even more impressive than the league let on. When Ben Dreith sued the NFL for age discrimination, the NFL had to give over all the grading records. 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. He was also instrumental in helping create the NFL Referee’s Association and was secretary-treasurer of the union for 18 years. 

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 retirement Bergman would diligently watch his sons and former colleagues work games and call them afterwards and offer critique.

Bergman is survived by his wife is 63 years JoAnn, four children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Our sympathies to the Bergman family and to all those who knew him and loved him. His obituary appears below.

Cover photo from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Gerard Bergman, age 87, of Ross Twp., formerly of the North Side, passed peacefully and surrounded by his family on Monday, May 15, 2017. Beloved husband for 63 years of JoAnn (Cvetic); loving father of Jeff (Beth Anne), Julie Zangaro (Gary), Jerry (Sue), and Jeannine Patton (Po); proud grandfather of Jessica, Brandon, Brock, Brett, Jordan, Cody, Beau, Tyler, Ali, Brody and Tanner; rreasured great-grandfather of 6; son of the late William and Rose (Buchert), loving brother of Ray, Father Charles, Rosemary Amurgis, and the late William. Also survived by many nieces, nephews, relatives, friends; especially his loving and devoted caregiver, Janet Henney.

Jerry officiated in the NFL from 1966-1995. His 30 years as an official is the second-longest tenure in NFL history. His career was highlighted by officiating four Super Bowls, two Pro Bowls, seven conference championship games, and numerous playoff contests. Jerry also helped create the Professional Football Referees Association (PFRA), and was instrumental in negotiating the first pension for game officials. Jerry was a 1948 graduate of North Catholic High School, where he quarterbacked the football team. He was involved in coaching youth football his entire life. He was the recipient of numerous honors, including the Dapper Dan Award, induction into the Western PA Sports Hall of Fame, the North Catholic Hall of Fame, and the North Side Hall of Fame. The family would like to thank the staff at Arden Courts of the North Hills, 1125 Perry Hwy., Pittsburgh, PA 15237 for the compassionate care and would like to direct memorial contributions to them in lieu of flowers.

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?"