Line judge Jeff Bergman officiated the 2022 edition of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, as a crew consisting of the longest tenured official at each position suited up for what is likely the first time in league history. By doing so, Bergman began his 30th NFL season, an accomplishment only seven other officials have achieved in the 103-year history of the NFL.
Bergman, 67, was hired by the NFL as a line judge in 1991 as part of a class of 10 officials hired by brand new officiating czar Jerry Seeman. In his 30 seasons, he has worked on crews led by many different referees including Dale Hamer, Gary Lane, Johnny Grier, Ron Winter, Bernie Kukar, Scott Green, Jerome Boger, Walt Coleman, and Jeff Triplette. Most recently, he has been the line judge on Alex Kemp’s crew since Kemp was promoted in 2018.
His first NFL game was the first Monday Night Football clash of the 1991 season between the 49ers and the Super Bowl champion Giants, which was a rematch of the prior season’s 7-3 standoff on Monday night and the epic NFC Championship Game.
Before officiating in the NFL, Bergman worked in the original USFL for all of its 3-season run. He also officiated in the Arena Football League, where he worked the first Arena Bowl, as well as NFL Europe, where he worked the first World Bowl on a crew led by referee Bernie Kukar. Following this assignment, Bergman ascended to the NFL.
Bergman’s father, Jerry, was the officiating patriarch of the family which includes Jeff, his brother and NFL down judge Jerry, and his son Brett, who is an MDP participant and current line judge in the Big Ten. Jerry, Sr. also worked 30 seasons in the NFL, as a head linesman from 1966 to 1995. Jeff and his father were able to work one game in the NFL together — a preseason game in 1991.
Family is important to Bergman on the field, but just as equally important off the field. Bergman has sat out of 2 seasons in order to care for his wife of 43 years, Beth Anne, who has gone through two different bouts of cancer. Bergman opted out of the 1997 and 2020 seasons to assist his family in caring for his wife. “At 40 years old, she had breast cancer and now she has a different type of cancer. No one should have to go through this. But she’s a fighter and she’s highly motivated,” Bergman told Referee magazine in November 2020.
Through 29 seasons as a line-of-scrimmage official, Bergman has officiated 22 postseason games, including 8 Wild Card Playoffs, 9 Divisional Playoffs, 3 Conference Championships, and Super Bowls XXXI and LIII. He will have an opportunity to add to that résumé this year in his final season. As originally reported by Referee, Bergman will be retiring at the conclusion of this season, as he notified the NFL on August 31, 2020, of his intentions to hang up his stripes after 30 seasons.
Among active officials, field judge Rick Patterson and side judge Boris Cheek are tied for second in line in seniority. Patterson and Cheek are each entering their 27th season.
Officials who worked 30 NFL seasons
With assistance of our partner website Quirky Research, we believe we have the comprehensive list of NFL officials who worked at least 30 seasons.
The record holder for tenure was head linesman Dan Tehan, who worked in the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. Some sources list Tehan worked as many as 35 seasons. Looking through old boxscores, Tehan was an official of professional football in the Ohio League as well, but he started in the NFL in 1933, making the record 32 seasons. Tehan also claimed he had 35 NFL seasons; this does not appear to be deliberately conflated, as officials were not technically league employees until the late 1930s.
Referees Ben Dreith and Jim Tunney had a parallel career arc, with Dreith starting in the American Football League’s inaugural season and Tunney in the NFL’s 41st. Both retired following the 1990 season, their 31st, although Dreith was apparently not ready to retire, but did so after being demoted to line judge in his final season. (Dreith won an age discrimination settlement from the NFL.)
Many officials view back judge Stan Javie, who took the field from 1951 to 1980, as “the best official ever,” citing his rule book knowledge and his ability to read plays quickly.
Umpire Lou Palazzi, in his 30-year tenure, was renowned for his hustle. He knew the game well and was a center for the New York Giants from 1946-47. Palazzi helped break in Tunney as referee, a fellow “30 Club” member. Palazzi and Tunney worked together for three years in the late 1960s.
Walt Coleman was the most recent addition to the list, and the third at the referee position. His career spanned from 1989 to 2018.
A few that did not make the list: side judge Dean Look was assigned to start his 30th season, but triple-bypass heart surgery forced him into retirement right before the season started. There were also some officials that worked NFL games in the 1920s, finishing up in the 1950s, but worked exclusively for some seasons in the vastly more popular college circuit in the 1930s.
|Yrs||Seasons||Title Games/Super Bowls*|
|HL||36||Dan Tehan||32||1933-1964||’33, ’39, ’47, ’51, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’57, ’63|
|R||12||Ben Dreith||31||1960-1990||’63 AFL, ’65 AFL, VIII, XV|
|R||32||Jim Tunney||31||1960-1990||VI, XI, XII|
|BJ||29||Stan Javie||30||1951-1980||’65, II, VIII, X|
|U||51||Lou Palazzi||30||1952-1981||’58, ’59, IV, VII, XI|
|HL||17||Jerry Bergman||30||1966-1995||XIII, XVI, XVIII, XXIII|
|LJ||32||Jeff Bergman||30||1991-1997, 1999-2019, 2021-2022||XXXI, LIII|
*includes NFL Championship games from 1933-65, AFL Championship games 1960-65, and only Super Bowls 1966-present. Positions and numbers shown are those that represent the majority of each official’s career. Includes AFL, excludes USFL and regional pro leagues of the 1930s. Sources: Professional Football Researchers Association, Football Zebras/Quirky Research.
Graphic and photo by Ben Austro/Football Zebras