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Jim Poole, back judge in 2 Super Bowls, dies at 89

Jim Poole, two-time Super Bowl official, has passed away.



Jim Poole, a two-time Super Bowl official and world class athlete, died November 7, at age 89.

An NFL officiating career with two Super Bowl assignments makes for an amazing résumé, but pro officiating only scratches the surface of a remarkable athletic life.

Poole played basketball and baseball for San Diego State. After graduation, he was a member of the gold medal-winning USA Basketball Team for the 1955 Pam American Games. While serving his country in the United State Air Force, he was a member of the All Air Force Volleyball Team in 1957,

But those athletic accomplishments were just a prelude. Poole became a world-class international badminton champion. He was the number one ranked singles and doubles player from the 1960s through the 1970s. He was also an over-55 champion in the 1980s and is enshrined in the USA Badminton Hall of Fame.

If he wasn’t busy enough, Poole took up football officiating, working his way up through the college ranks and joining the NFL as a back judge (now called field judge) in 1975. Poole worked for a majority of his career with referee Pat Haggerty.

Poole worked several playoff games including two wild card, nine divisional, seven championship games, and Super Bowls XXI and XXVII.

One of his two famous playoff games was the 1980 divisional playoff game between the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders — the Red Right 88 game. That game featured bitter cold temperatures along Lake Erie. The very next year, Poole officiated an even colder playoff game: The 1981 AFC Championship Game between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals — the Freezer Bowl — with a wind chill of 59 degrees below zero.

Speaking to Ohio Magazine, Poole remembered the bitterly cold day.

We were sitting in the locker room two hours before the game, and they were on the phone with the league office. They were actually talking about postponing it and moving it to Detroit, where we’d be indoors. It was bad enough that there was a lot of concern. One of the things that made the decision is that the Silverdome was set up for something else the next day. … They eventually decided to play it. … We didn’t have a whole lot of cold-weather equipment. I knew one guy who wore a wet suit — anything to keep the heat in.

But, one of Poole’s most “famous” moments happened when he helped Haggerty shut down a play due to a false start penalty.

After retiring from the NFL in 1995, Poole worked as an officiating observer and trainer.

Off the field, Poole was a professor for over 30 years at Cal State University. He was predeceased by his wife of 53 years, Sue. He is survived by three children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Our sympathies to all who knew Jim Poole and loved him. The text of his obituary appears below.

James “Jim” Poole passed away peacefully on November 7, 2021, after a brief bout with cancer. Born just outside Nashville, Tennessee, Jim spent a majority of his life in California and Arizona, moving just a few years ago to Blacksburg to be closer to family.

Jim was an incredible athlete playing both basketball and baseball for San Diego State University. He was honored to have his baseball jersey retired as one of the top pitchers in school history. Following graduation, he went on to participate as a member of the winning USA Basketball Team for the 1955 Pan American Games earning a gold medal. He followed that as a member of the All Air Force Volleyball Team in 1957, during his time serving in the Air Force competing in the Armed Forces Sports.

Jim became a world-class, international badminton champion and one of the most decorated players in USA Badminton history. He was the number one-ranked singles player and number one-ranked doubles player (with partner, Don Paup) throughout the 1960s and mid-1970s. His 65 United States Championships are the most for any badminton player and his record of winning his first in 1958 and his last in 1979, a span of 21 years, remains the longest of any player in USA Badminton history. He won numerous European and Canadian titles and was the World Champion in the over-55 age group in 1987. His most cherished victory was winning the Malaysia Open in 1961, as he was the first victor from a non-Asian country. He remains the only American player to win this elite tournament. He also played for the US National Team (Thomas Cup) from 1958-1976 (even coaching several teams) traveling all over the world. In 1970 he was elected into the USA Badminton Hall of Fame now known as the Walk of Fame.

As his badminton career was winding down, his football officiating career was reaching its pinnacle as he worked for 20 years on the field for the National Football League (1975-1995) being honored to officiate Super Bowl XXI (1987) and Super Bowl XXVII (1994). After retiring from the field, Jim worked briefly as a supervisor in New York City before returning full-time to Sun Lakes, Arizona where he continued to be an NFL trainer and then an observer for the Arizona Cardinal games for many more years. During his retirement years in Arizona, Jim naturally became a scratch golfer and won a couple club championships.

Professionally, Jim was a college professor for over 30 years at Cal State University, Northridge and Cal State University, Dominguez Hills.

Jim met his wife of 53 years, Sue, during his time in the Air Force. Jim and Sue loved traveling and spending time with their family. Sadly, Sue passed away in 2013.

Jim is survived by daughters Kelly (Mark) and Lisa (Jeff), and son Jon (Kathleen), seven grandchildren Melissa (Matt), Kristin, Carly (Geoff), Kenny, Ricky, Kyle, McKayla, and one great grandchild Wyatt.

The family would like to think Dr. Robert Solomon, the staff at Medi-Home Health (most notably Jacqui, Alecia, Matthew, and Chaplin Mike), and the staff and ownership of English Meadows Blacksburg for their care and concern for Jim.

The family will receive visitors celebrating Jim’s life from 3:00-4:00 pm, Sunday, November 14, 2021 at McCoy Funeral Home, 150 Country Club Dr. S.W., Blacksburg Virginia. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society at this link.

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?"