The officiating world eagerly awaits the expected announcement that Art McNally, long-time NFL supervisor of officials, is a member of the 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. If McNally is voted by the Hall of Fame voters, he would be the first officiating-related induction.
As we have pointed out in the past, Canton lags far behind its contemporaries, which started enshrining officials four generations ago.
Obviously, in the history of pro football, there have been many officials who far exceeded their peers and are also worthy of inclusion at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor to the game. Official’s names are not necessarily household names, and, particularly, really good ones are anonymous.
Since 2019, Football Zebras has listed officials we feel worthy of a bust in Canton. We will present the list to the Hall of Fame to help the contributors committee in selecting future officials. Starting this year, we will limit to 2 additional names each year.
- 2018: Art McNally
- 2019: Jerry Markbreit, Jim Tunney, Burl Toler, and Stan Javie
- 2020: Jerry Bergman Sr., Ron Botchan, Tom Kelleher, and Bob Beeks
- 2021: Ben Montgomery, Jerry Seeman, Tony Veteri Sr., and Ron Gibbs
This year, we nominate two more officials who we feel the Hall of Fame should consider: Jack Fette and Norm Schachter.
Line judge 1965-87
It’s rare for an official to call games at a high level in two sports. It is even more rare for that official to call games at a high level for three sports. Jack Fette did just that.
After Fette’s Navy service in World War II, The Lees Summit, Missouri, resident began his officiating career in 1947, by calling minor league baseball. Fette worked his way up to Triple-A, one major league umpire’s retirement or broken bone away from the big leagues. But, Fette had secured a good-paying job with Wilson Sporting Goods, and he committed to the stability of that job, compared to the nomadic life of a pro umpire.
But, Fette’s officiating career was far from over. He worked high school and college baseball, Division I college basketball, and Big 8 (now Big 12) college football. Fette got the call to the pros, as he joined the NFL in 1965 as a line judge. He wore number 39 for most of his career.
Fette spent 23 years as a NFL line judge. He served on Norm Schachter’s crew for 11 years. He also served on crews led by Red Cashion and Gordon McCarter. From 1965 through his retirement in 1987, Fette worked a total of 21 playoff games: three wild card games, 10 divisional round games, three conference championships, and a record-tying five Super Bowls (V, VIII, X, XIII and XXII). He worked a playoff game every year in his final 16 years on the field.
Fette came from the old school, where officials controlled games with an iron will — most likely learned during his minor league baseball days when umpires had to deal with slashed tires, thrown bottles, and post-game fistfights with fans. In his book, Close Calls: Confessions of a NFL Referee, Schachter described Fette by saying, “Nothing intimidates [Jack Fette]. That’s why he is in the League. I always referred to [head linesman Ed] Marion and Fette as ‘my bookends.’ They certainly hold down the sideline.”
With that fearlessness came some rough edges — some humorous and some that got Fette sideways with the NFL. In his book, Schachter recalls that during one game with the Oakland Raiders, Fette and coach John Madden had quite the running dialogue. After the game Madden knocked on the officials’ dressing room door and asked if he could speak to Fette. Schachter said he could, as long as he stayed in the doorway. Madden then proceeded to unload on Fette. Fette had just gotten out of the shower and had a towel around his waist. Schachter then said while Madden was yelling at Fette, Fette turned his back on Madden, bent over to “get” something in his locker stall and dropped his towel, giving Madden the full moon.
Another incident earned Fette a game off. After a contentious 1984 game in Cincinnati between the Bengals and the Seahawks, several fans were berating the officials and throwing snowballs at the crew as they left the field after the game. Fette bellowed profanities toward the fans and invited them to come down on the field to fight. Fette was directed toward the locker room without further incident, but the NFL suspended Fette for one game for “conduct toward fans.”
But, although Fette might have talked rough or was ready to take on a stadium full of angry fans, the man could call a game. His calls were forceful and with conviction — and almost always bang-on accurate. He also was a strong crew-mate who had his fellow officials’ backs.
During his career, Fette was one of the largest officials on the roster. But, he always hustled and was in proper position to rule on a play. Today, when physical appearance goes a long way in an official’s advancement to high college and the NFL, Fette would barely sniff a Division III schedule, let alone the NFL. I wonder how many officials today have the skills of Jack Fette, but cannot advance because they look like Jack Fette.
Fette was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, shortly before he passed away at age 79 in late 2004.
Fette was one of the most outstanding line judges of the 1970s and 1980s. Due to his five Super Bowl assignments, long playoff string, and fearless officiating, we proudly nominate Jack Fette for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Field judge 1954-62, referee 1963-75
When you discuss the top referees of the 1960s and early 1970s, the conversation has to start with Norm Schachter. The 22-year official was, and still is, considered a pioneer in NFL officiating.
Schachter began his officiating career in 1942 by working scrimmages for Redlands University, and began officiating California high school football and basketball in 1946. This four-year officiating hiatus was spent serving our nation as a captain in the Marine Corps during World War II.
The Los Angeles native was hired by the NFL in 1954 as a field judge, and was assigned to referee Emil “Dutch” Heintz’s crew. When he was hired, commissioner Bert Bell only guaranteed him 7 games with a game fee of $100 each. He accepted those terms and became one of the league’s top officials over the next two decades.
In his 1981 memoir, Close Calls: Confessions of a NFL Referee, Schachter recalled his first penalty call. In a game between the Steelers and Rams, Rams receiver Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch was interfered with following a pass from quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. Schachter threw the (white) penalty flag on Pittsburgh, and wouldn’t hear the end of it. He approached veteran back judge Norm Duncan, who told him, “Don’t pay any attention to it. They don’t mean anything. It’s just like saying, ‘Have a nice day.’â€‰”
After working with some of the best referees in the business, Schachter ascended to the referee position himself in the 1963 season. In his first year as a referee, Schachter was assigned to the 1963 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and Bears, where he reportedly received a telegram at halftime from his eye doctor, which read: SAW FIRST HALF. TIME FOR NEW PRESCRIPTION.
This continued an impressive run of postseason assignments. During his 22-year career, Schachter worked a Conference Playoff and 3 NFL Championship Games before the merger, and 3 Divisional Playoffs and a Conference Championship after the merger. This count doesn’t include his three Super Bowl assignments: Super Bowls I, V, and X.
One of those NFL Championship Games was the 1967 edition, for who would have the right to advance to Super Bowl II against the AFL champion Oakland Raiders. The game in frigid Green Bay with a kickoff temperature of -15 °F (and a wind chill of approximately -50 °) lives in NFL lore as the Ice Bowl. Legend has it that Schachter and his crew killed plays with verbal commands for the entire game, as after the very first play from scrimmage, field judge Fritz Graf’s whistle stuck to his lip, prompting him to rip it free, tearing his skin until he bled, whereafter the blood on his lip instantly froze.
Schachter’s career, albeit venerable, was not without controversy. His crew was suspended after they lost track of the downs during a 1968 game between the Rams and Bears. The Rams were penalized for offensive holding (at the time, a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul), but Schachter and his crew did not replay the down. Among the officials on that crew was our other nominee, line judge Jack Fette. In the statement issued announcing the suspension, commissioner Pete Rozelle stated despite the error, they were “considered among the most competent in pro football.”
Schachter was the referee for the first Monday Night Football game, the 1970 clash between the Jets and Browns in Cleveland.
In 1975, Norm Schachter’s final season in the NFL, referees were equipped with microphones for the first time. In his final game, Super Bowl X, Schachter became the first Super Bowl referee to wear a microphone to announce fouls. He only had to click on the mic twice, as there were only two accepted penalties in the game. His announcements were short and succinct, perhaps an announcement that the officiating brass would like to see today.
Following his on-field career, Schachter worked as an observer and grader under Art McNally in the league office. He was an editor for the official playing rules, and re-wrote the NFL officials manual. Schachter also created weekly rules tests for officials, and scouted prospective officials in the college ranks.
Schachter died of natural causes on October 2, 2004, at the age of 90.
It’s hard to talk about the greatest referees of all-time and not mention Norm Schachter. His remarkable on-field career spanned over two decades, and even following that service, he continued his service to future officials in the league office. Also, you can’t pass up on the fact that he was the referee for the first Super Bowl. For these reasons, we proudly nominate Norm Schachter for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.