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Long before Zoom, the Super Bowl XIX coin toss was remote

We didn’t call it Zoom back then. But in 1985, referee Pat Haggerty oversaw a virtual Super Bowl XIX coin toss.



Today, the Super Bowl coin toss is a media frenzy. While not as much of a crush since covid-19, the coin toss is a highly-scripted affair with celebrity visitors to toss the coin. The referee practices the coin toss the day before the big game!

This celebri-toss started over 40 years ago. Chicago Bears owner George Halas tossed the coin from an antique car for Super Bowl XIII. Vince Lombardi’s widow tossed the coin for Super Bowl XV. Several other Hall of Famers delivered the coin to the Super Bowl referee in the following years.

But 38 years ago, the planners for Super Bowl XIX had a big idea for the January 20, 1985, game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins. President Ronald Reagan, fresh off of being re-elected to a second term several weeks prior was going to toss the coin. But, the president was a little tied up that weekend and couldn’t come to California. The Constitution requires that the president be sworn in on January 20 at Noon — the same day as the Super Bowl. President Reagan took the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House, and the public ceremony took place the next day.

The NFL and ABC sports devised a Plan B. President Reagan tossed the coin from the White House and the audience saw the toss via satellite.

Pat Haggerty was assigned to referee Super Bowl XIX. Coincidentally, he oversaw Halas toss the coin for Super Bowl XIII. For Super Bowl XIX, he oversaw someone else toss the coin again.

Former player Hugh McElhenny “hosted” the coin toss.

After this most interesting start to the game, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins 38-16.

But, Haggerty’s history of interesting coin tosses wasn’t over. A few years later, in 1989, actress Elizabeth Taylor was a guest of the Dallas Cowboys. Taylor delivered the coin to Haggerty, who got a little flustered standing next to one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses.

In 2023, remote meetings and connections is the norm. But in 1985, Pat Haggerty oversaw the first-ever virtual football coin toss.

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?"