Football Zebras
HistoryThrowback to 1989: Referee Bob McElwee allows Bengals coach to give geography lesson

Throwback to 1989: Referee Bob McElwee allows Bengals coach to give geography lesson

The Cincinnatti Bengals were hosting the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14 of the 1989 season. The Bengals needed a win to stay alive in the AFC playoff hunt. The Seahawks were hoping a win and a little help would keep their slim-to-none playoff hopes alive.

It was a snowy, cold day at Cincinnatti’s Riverfront Stadium and the Bengals’ fans were in a pre-holiday festive spirit. Bob McElwee’s crew was in charge of officiating the game.

Suddenly some snowballs starting sailing out of the stands and onto the turf. This is always a dangerous situation – not just for the officials, but for everyone on the field. Earlier in 1989, the famous Dawg Pound in Cleveland peppered the Broncos with debris. Referee Tom Dooley ordered the teams to switch ends of the field and away from the pound.

Sam Wyche wasn’t having any of it. Determined that the Bengals-Seahawks tilt would not be spoiled by fans throwing projectiles on the field, he asked permission from McElwee to make an announcement on the public address system. The announcement exhorted the crowd to better behavior and gave a shot to the rival Cleveland Browns.

While the video is historic enough, officiating historians might notice something. The head linesman was Tom White in his rookie season. That year, White was pressed into duty as an emergency referee, when McElwee took ill and there wasn’t time to bring in another referee. White, who was a United States Football League referee, would be promoted to white hat for the 1990 season. White’s sideline partner that day was side judge Stan Kemp. In 1991 Kemp would be promoted to referee, but tragically, he contracted ALS and had to retire in 1992. Current referee Alex Kemp, is Stan’s son.

While you enjoy footage of Wyche barking at the crowd, be sure to catch a glimpse of two future white hats wearing the black hat that day in 1989.

Mark Schultz
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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