While many television networks are continuing to re-air feature games with memorable performances, Football Zebras is going behind the stripes to highlight some throwback moments from NFL officials. Let’s go back to November of 1986.
Jerry Markbreit’s crew was assigned a Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field in Chicago. The season before, the Bears and Packers had an angry series that enraged the Packers when the Bears put William “The Refrigerator” Perry on offense at the goal line.
Later that season, the Packers were called for several very late hits on the Bears.
So, when the November game rolled around, both teams were amped up. Charles Martin even put numbers of Bears players on a towel. That was his “hit list.”
Well, Martin got a chance to take a shot at Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon. Following an interception, well after the pass was released, Martin took his shot. “Suddenly Martin grabbed McMahon right in front of me, picked him up, turned him over, and stuffed him into the ground,” said Markbreit in his book Last Call: Memoirs of an NFL Referee. “I threw my flag where McMahon fell.”
Then it all hit the fan. Markbreit, who turned 85 in March, ejected Martin, and the game calmed down and both teams played football. Markbreit’s crew that day included umpire Ben Montgomery, head linesman Paul Weidner, line judge Bill Reynolds, back judge Tom Kelleher, side judge Merrill Douglas, and field judge Bill Stanley.
Markbreit’s control over the fiasco did not go unnoticed. As part of the league’s grading system, all plays were graded on a scale of 1 to 7, with a 7 being an outstanding call, of which the league gave out approximately three that year, out of over 35,000 plays a season. “When Commissioner Pete Rozelle reviewed the play, I heard that he asked a supervisor in the league office, ‘What grade did Markbreit get on that call?’ The supervisor said, ‘He got a 7,'” Markbreit reflected. “Rozelle said, “Is that all?'” At the end of the season, Markbreit was assigned to the second Super Bowl of his career, Super Bowl XXI. Markbreit reflects that this situation played a key role in receiving that assignment.
In this past season where there was a horrifying and universally condemned violent act on the field, the video below shows how Jerry Markbreit handled a powder keg that exploded, but he and his crew didn’t allow that explosion to destroy the entire ammunition dump.
Cam Filipe contributed to this report.