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NFL officiating patriarch and ‘godfather of officials’ Carl Paganelli dies

Carl Paganelli, 1937-2019

Carl Paganelli Sr., a highly respected college and pro official, an officiating administrator, and a mentor, has died at the age of 82.

You never saw him on an NFL field, but his presence there is unmistakable. His three sons, umpire Carl Jr. and back judges Perry and Dino, have collected 7 Super Bowl rings, including two from Super Bowl XLI which Carl and Perry both worked.

The elder Paganelli was the supervisor of officiating for the Arena Football League and was inducted into the Arena Football Hall of Fame. He also supervised the officials in the Mid-American Conference in college football, in the first incarnation of the XFL, and consulted for many European circuits of American football. On the field, Paganelli officiated high school, small college, USFL and the World League of American Football. In the first World League game played in London, the referee was on the receiving end of a blindside block and had to leave the ball game. Paganelli was watching the game from the press box. He left the press box, donned the uniform, and called the rest of the contest.

In short, Carl Sr., officiated at every level of football except the NFL. “It just didn’t happen for me,” Paganelli said in a Sports Illustrated article in 2006.

A longtime resident of Wyoming, Mich., just outside of Grand Rapids, Paganelli was involved in West Michigan Officials Association for 60 years, an area that produced NFL officials Dick Dolack and Ron Winter, Big 10 referee Dave Witvoet and, of course, the three Paganelli brothers. More than 30 NFL officials over the years have credited the Paganelli patriarch for his guidance, mentoring and leadership. He is a member of the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame.

The WMOA tweeted that Paganelli passed away in the morning on May 21 in Florida.

In 2017 the WMOA honored Paganelli with a Lifetime Achievement Award. “So many people have played an important part in my officiating career,” Paganelli said at the time. “I feel that it is my job to return to the younger officials — and even the veteran officials — all the knowledge that I have gained throughout my career.”

“He is, as everyone says, the godfather of officials in the area,” said Brad Brunet of the WMOA to the Grand Rapids Press in 2017. “Really, when he speaks, everyone listens. He has that experience and the knowledge, and he enjoys sharing it.”

Paganelli was the institutional asset to officials in West Michigan, and beyond, consulted frequently on difficult rules interpretations, and provided training materials to help his fellow officials.

Paganelli was diagnosed with a recurring non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2016, following 28 years as a survivor. He talked about the importance of family a few years prior to his passing.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of officials at all levels carry Paganelli’s lessons with them as they take the field this fall. Our sympathies to all who knew Carl Paganelli Sr. and loved him.

Image: Lance Wynn/Grand Rapids Press

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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