Former referee hoping to make HOF history
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, boasts the busts of 253 gridiron greats, but not one was a field official. And that's not likely to change anytime soon.
On Sept. 19, the Hall of Fame announced that the NFL's most proflific receiver and rusher — Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith — headlined a list of 131 players, coaches, owners and administrators vying for enshrinement in Canton's Class of 2010.
Only one, Jim Tunney, 80, is a "zebra" — a referee, umpire, linesman or judge who patrols the field dispensing immediate justice against players who break the rules of football.
Hall of Fame Steelers owner Dan Rooney respects Tunney so much that they still exchange Christmas cards, 18 years after Tunney hung up his cleats.
"I've been nominated four times," said Tunney, 80, a retired school executive who officiated more than 500 NFL games over a 31-year career. "The first time was when Dan Rooney got nominated. Well, how am I going to outdo the great Dan Rooney• Come on!
"I just think that if one of us can get a foot in the door, maybe some deserving officials will finally get in, too."
While media members make most of the annual Hall of Fame selections — a committee scrutinizing long-retired veterans also enshrines nominees — an internet promotion sponsored by the Hall of Fame and JC Penny's Van Heusen shirt collection has Tunney standing 33rd of 130 nominees.
That's two spots behind Dan Rooney's son, Steelers' president Art II. But it's also two ahead of legendary safety Donnie Shell, who started in the Jan. 6, 1980 AFC Title game that saw Tunney rule the Houston Oilers' Mike Renfro out of bounds on a touchdown reception. Tunney's controversial decision helped spur the Steelers toward the team's fourth of six Super Bowl victories.
Benjamin Dreith, 84, is the only other official in the Van Heusen poll. Beginning his career in the AFL, Dreith put together a streak of 28 straight years working playoff games. Dreith, though, is near the bottom of fan voting and not among the 2010 Hall of Fame finalists.
In Pittsburgh, he's probably best known for the flags he threw against Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert, especially Dreith's 1981 ejection of the Hall fo Famer for an out-of-bounds hit on Cleveland Browns' quarterback Brian Sipe. That call cemented Dreith's reputation for no-nonsense officiating.
"I threw Jack Lambert out twice," said Dreith during a telephone interview from his home near Denver. "One time, it was because he hit Sipe out of bounds — just decked him.
"He was a great football player, but what he did was wrong. I told (Steelers coach) Chuck Noll that Lambert was out. Noll said to me: 'Did you see what the Browns did to Lambert?' But I said: 'He knocked Sipe out.' And that was that."
Hall of Fame offials
Naismith Memorial Basketball: 13
National Baseball: 8
Canadian Football: 3
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Banged-up Steelers can clinch with win over Chiefs
- Steelers’ Bell, Chiefs’ Charles elevating running back position in NFL
- Chiefs game-plan play that suits speedy rookie Thomas’ talents
- Steelers notebook: Bell says he’s prepared to test Chiefs defense
- Penguins’ defensive depth proves valuable
- Steelers, young and old, thirst for opportunity to reach the postseason
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin unaware of mumps outbreak in NHL
- QB Smith is chief concern for Steelers’ defense
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu, Taylor unlikely to play, Harrison ‘ready’
- Steelers lookahead: Chiefs’ Charles injured but remains dangerous threat
- Undersized Beachum quietly excels at 1 of game’s pivotal positions