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40-year anniversary of the play where Pat Haggerty’s life flashed before his eyes

40-years ago, AJ Duhe was a hero for the Miami Dolphins and referee Pat Haggerty almost became his mud flap.

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After a strike-shortened 1982 NFL season, the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins faced off in The Orange Bowl on January 23, 1983, for the right to go to Super Bowl XVII. It was a game where Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe became a hero, and referee Pat Haggerty almost was buried in the Orange Bowl turf.

It rained heavily the night before the game and the morning of the game. The field was uncovered early – prompting protests from Jets coach Walt Michaels. The field was a sloppy quagmire that presented a challenge to players and officials.

The officiating crew that day was Haggerty at referee, umpire Gordon Wells, head linesman Jerry Bergman, line judge Jack Fette, back judge Pat Knight, side judge Dean Look and field judge Fritz Graf.

The game was a low-scoring affair. The hero of the game turned out to be Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe. The defender rarely intercepted passes, but he snagged three from the Jets that day. The final interception was a returned for a touchdown. And referee Pat Haggerty almost got knocked down on Duhe’s way to the endzone.

The play was so exciting and historic that NBC sports used it to open their NFL coverage for several seasons.

Back then, the referee could vary their positioning in the backfield that felt comfortable for him. Officials like Haggerty, Jerry Markbreit and Ben Dreith lined up very close, just a few yards behind the running back. Other referees like Fred Wyant, Gene Barth and Fred Silva lined up farther back. Each position had its positives and negatives. Haggerty’s close position almost came back to bite him. Today, referees are instructed to be wide and deep on every snap from scrimmage.

The Dolphins ended up winning the game 14-0. They faced Washington in the Super Bowl, only to come up short 27-17.

This week’s conference championship officials hope for just as an exciting championship game. But, I’m sure they hope for a drier one!

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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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