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FJ Fritz Graf, veteran of 4 Super Bowls and Ice Bowl, passes away at 94

Former NFL field judge, Fritz Graf, who called four Super Bowls, and was on the field for The Ice Bowl, died November 29, at the age of 94. At the time of his death, we think he was the oldest surviving official.




Fritz Graf (Ed Suba, Jr., Akron Beacon Journal)

Frederick “Fritz” Graf, 1922-2017

Former NFL field judge, Fritz Graf, who called four Super Bowls, and was on the field for The Ice Bowl, died November 29, at the age of 94. At the time of his death, we think he was the oldest surviving official.

Graf was a native of Akron, Ohio, and had a distinguished athletic career in high school and in college at Western Reserve University. After graduating, he served in the Navy in World War II. During his time in the service, he took up officiating while stationed in Hawaii. After his time in the service, he returned to Akron where he worked 40 years as a medical sales representative and continued his officiating career.

After working college football in the Midwestern Athletic Conference, Graf began his pro officiating career in the American Football League. He worked the inaugural AFL championship game as a field judge (now called back judge) after the 1960 season. For 1961, Graf joined the National Football League, also as a field judge and retired after the 1983 season. 

In the NFL, Graf wore uniform number 34 for most of his career. He worked several NFL championship games, including the 1967 Ice Bowl. Graf’s Ice Bowl whistle is on display at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Graf remembers officials tossing gloves and whistles to the Ice Bowl alternate officials during time outs. The alternates held the equipment in front of the heaters for a few moments to thaw.

(L-R) Ray Dodez, Royal Cathcart, Tommy Bell, Tom Kelleher, Fritz Graf and George Kennard, in 1971. (Dodez family)

For several years, Graf worked on referee Tommy Bell’s crew. Bell’s crew, with Graf as a member, was profiled in a 1970 Sports Illustrated article.

When Gene Barth became a referee in 1975, the NFL moved Graf to his crew to help break in the new referee. He stayed on Barth’s crew until his retirement. In 1982, Graf helped break in a new side judge named Gerald Austin. When Graf retired, Austin took number 34 to honor his mentor.

In the Super Bowl era, Graf worked in four of the first 18 Super Bowls. He helped call Jim O’Brien’s winning field goal in Super Bowl V. He also called Super Bowls VIII, XV, and XVIII. Graf ended his 23-year officiating career with the Super Bowl XVIII assignment.

After retiring from the NFL, Graf spent time scouting officials and serving as a replay official from 1986-1991.

In 2000, the NFL awarded Graf the Outstanding Official Award.

A few years ago, to commemorate the golden anniversary Super Bowl, Graf spoke about his career on Reddit. 

Graf was married to his wife, Rita, for 62 years. She passed away in 2009. Surviving are 10 children, 22 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. 

The text of Graf’s obituary appears below.

Our sympathies to all who knew him and loved him.

Frederick “Fritz” Graf

The oldest living NFL official, Frederick “Fritz” Graf, has made his final call. On Nov. 29, 2017, our fearless leader and patriarch died peacefully within his family huddle. Born on Dec. 28, 1922, Fritz was a lifelong resident of Akron, Ohio.

He was a graduate of St. Vincent High School where he was All City and All State in football. He graduated from Western Reserve University and Midshipmen School at Northwestern in Chicago. Fritz served as a Lieutenant Naval Officer in both the European and Pacific Theatres in World War II. For nearly 40 years, Fritz was successful in two careers; one with the Ritter Corporation as a medical equipment sales rep and, more notably, as an NFL official.

His dedication and commitment to excellence earned him the honor of officiating 23 postseason games, including 10 championship games, four Super Bowls (V, VIII, XV, XVIII), and the infamous Ice Bowl of 1967 which earned him the honor of having his whistle placed on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

Fritz spent his life working to make a difference in the lives of his family and in the community. He was active in numerous clubs and organizations: Eastern Ohio Officials (past president), NFL Referees Association, Executive Board of Summit County Hall of Fame, and Knights of Columbus. His integrity and character earned Fritz many distinguished and prestigious honors. He was inducted into the St. V-M Hall of Fame along with the Summit County Hall of Fame. He was also awarded the Fr. Mahar St. V-M Outstanding Alumni Award, the “Dapper Dan Award” in 1985 and the Outstanding NFL Official Award in 2000 (one of only eight people at that time to receive this award).

However, Fritz’s greatest joy in life was spending time with his family, especially the 62 years he spent with his high school sweetheart and love of his life, Rita Botzum Graf. He felt he scored a touchdown each time one of his 10 children graduated from college. He will be greatly missed by his kids: Denny (Judy), Judi Piekarski (Ron), Larry (Margret), Mary Graf Kase, Jack (Christine), Martha Thomas (Jim), Al (Susan), Helen, Kathie, and Paul (Victoria). Grandpa Fritz was diligent in keeping up with the athletic endeavors and report cards of his 22 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. The gift of providing an education and instilling a positive self image in their children was paramount to Fritz and Rita. There was always a great combination of discipline and laughter in the Graf house – just ask anyone who had the unique experience of having dinner there! Thank you to all who provided so much enjoyment for Fritz this past year, especially Chuck Smith, Bethanne Mullen, and our dear sister Kathie. A special thanks goes to all staff at St. Edward’s and CCAG Hospice for their kind and loving care.

Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 4, at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, with Father William Karg (first cousin) and Father Joseph Kraker (relative) presiding. Private interment will be at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman. Friends may call on Sunday, Dec. 3, at Hummel Funeral Home from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., 500 E. Exchange St. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the St. Vincent-St. Mary Graf Family Scholarship Fund, 15 N. Maple St., Akron, OH 44303

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?"