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Throwback to the 1986 playoffs: John Madden likes officials who sweat

Let’s go back to the 1986 divisional playoffs, where an errant pass in mop-up time gave umpire Art Demmas some surprise TV time.



The New York Giants were a few minutes away from dispatching another victim on their way to a Super Bowl Championship.

On January 4, 1987, the Giants were in the process of destroying the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 49-3. The players, coaches and officials were ready for the game to be over, get into the locker room out of the gale at The Meadowlands and take a nice hot shower.

The folks at CBS were assuredly disappointed in the lopsided score. Joe Montana had been knocked out of the game in the first half, effectively ending any 49ers hopes. By the fourth quarter, both teams had emptied their benches and second (and maybe third) string was playing out the clock.

With the game in hand, John Madden decided to have a little fun. He started diagramming the Gatorade buckets that would be dumped on coach Bill Parcells (the Giants having started that tradition earlier in the season).

And then, an errant pass by 49ers back up quarterback Jeff Kemp gave Madden some new material. Umpire Art Demmas had to hit the Giants Stadium turf to avoid being hit by the pass.

Madden noted that Demmas had to take a dive. He then mused that he always liked Demmas because he “sweat” on the field. He said if an official didn’t sweat he wondered if they were actually working hard. The CBS cameras then isolated on Demmas while Madden did a hilarious play by play of Demmas putting himself back together after his misadventure.

Madden’s take on Demmas as a good official is supported in his record. Demmas was hired into the AFL in 1968 and retired from the NFL after the 1996 season. He officiated 23 playoff games: three wild cards, 11 divisionals, five conference championships and Super Bowls XIII, XVII, XXV and XVIII.

The NFL front office liked Demmas’ work, as they frequently paired the veteran umpire with a new referee and helped the rookie white hat learn the ropes.

Demmas died in 2016 at the age of 82. He was a mainstay in the NFL as it became America’s Game.

And, for about 30 seconds in a boring 1986 playoff game, circumstances conspired to give the veteran some nice face time on TV and gave Madden something to comment on, instead of talking about second stringers playing out the clock.

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?"