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Chuck Heberling, referee of The Drive passes away

Chuck Heberling, an NFL official for 23 seasons and who was the referee for The Drive, passes away at age 94.



Charles “Ace” Heberling, 1925–2019

Chuck Heberling, a NFL line judge and referee for 23 seasons passed away Dec. 9 at the age of 94.

Heberling worked Super Bowl XXIII as a replay official, and was in uniform as an alternate for Super Bowls XIII and XXI. He wore uniform number 46 for most of his NFL career.

During his career, he was on the field for nine playoff games — three at line judge and the rest as a referee. In all, he worked two wild card games, four divisional playoffs, and three conference championships. 

A native of Pittsburgh, Heberling served in the Navy during World War II. He was a fighter pilot, which is how he earned the nickname “Ace.”

After the war, Heberling graduated from Washington and Jefferson College, where he played both football and baseball. 

During his career he was a salesman for General Electric in Pittsburgh. In 1977 he became the director of the Western Pennsylavania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL), the association that oversaw high school athletics in Western Pennsylavania. During his time as director, he was known as a tough, blunt, no-nonsense leader.

Heberling worked high school and college football for 15-years and high school and college basketball for 25-years. He also worked one NBA game on February 7, 1967 when the Philadelphia 76er hosted the San Francisco Warriors, when the regular referees were snow-bound.

When the NFL expanded crews in 1965, Heberling came in as line judge. He worked line judge through the 1971 season. He became a referee in the summer of 1972 when Super Bowl II referee, Jack Vest, was killed in an accident. When Heberling moved to referee, it opened up a line judge position for a young official named Red Cashion. 

On the field, Heberling came across as a take-charge referee, who spoke directly to players to get them to do what needed to be done.

Heberling needed all of that take-charge quality in 1975. The Dallas Cowboys were on the verge of upsetting the Minnesota Vikings after completing the Hail Mary.

The enraged Vikings thought the Cowboys got away with offensive pass interference. Fran Tarkenton took over with just a few seconds left. He called time out after a sack, and spent the time berating the officials, which incited the crowd to throw debris on the field. A glass bottle hit field judge Armen Terzian, knocking him out.

While medical personnel attended to Terzian, Heberling sternly told Tarkenton to stop berating the officials.

Heberling retired after the 1985 season and was going to be one of the first instant replay officials. But, in the offseason, referee Fred Silva had a heart attack and wasn’t going to be ready to start the 1986 season. The NFL asked Heberling to come out of retirement to substitute for Silva. He must have had a great season, because he worked the 1986 AFC Conference Championship — The Drive — which ended his career on a high mark.

After moving to the replay booth, Heberling certainly had plenty of work to do.

After the NFL did away with instant replay for 1991, Heberling continued to serve the NFL as an officiating observer.

He retired as WPIAL director in 1997.

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Heberling was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Jane, and his son Daniel. He is survived by two sons, a daughter, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Our sympathies to all who knew him and loved him.

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?"

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