"THE CONVERSATION" Episode #6 With Jim Tunney, "The Dean Of NFL Referees"

February 10, 2020

Dr. Jim Tunney, NFL Official, School Administrator, Author, Speaker

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Photo: Kronozio

Jim Tunney a former American football official in the National Football League from 1960 to 1990. In his 31 years as an NFL official, Tunney received a record 29 post-season assignments, including ten Championship games and Super Bowls VI, XI, and XII and named as an alternate in Super Bowl XVIII. He is still the only referee who has worked consecutive Super Bowls, and likely will be the only one to do so.

Tunney nicknamed the “Dean of NFL Referees”, Tunney was the first official to be named to the “All-Madden Team” in 1990 and won the “Gold Whistle Award” in 1992 from the National Association of Sports Officials.

Tunney’s trademark signal upon a successful field goal, or extra point, featured raising his arms with fists clenched, then opening both fists simultaneously to indicate the attempt as “good”.

After graduating from Occidental College in 1951, Tunney starting officiating football and basketball working high school, college, and Pacific Coast Conference (Pac-10) games until 1967. In 1960, he was hired to work in the NFL as a field judge before being promoted to the referee position in 1967 where he would stay for the remainder of his career until retiring after the 1990 NFL season. His final game was the 1990 AFC Championship Game between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Raiders played January 20, 1991. He currently works on the NFL officiating staff as an Observer, attending games each week helping with improvement of the current game officials.

Still active in league affairs and many sports issues, Tunney was a member of Commissioner Tagliabue’s Officiating 2000 Committee, and was Vice Chair of the U.S. Olympic Committee for Northern California (Sydney 2000 Games). In 1993, he founded the Jim Tunney Youth Foundation, which supports community programs and resources that work with youth to develop leadership, work skills, wellness, and self-esteem. He writes a weekly column for the Monterey Herald and is a motivational speaker.

Jim Tunney was the Boys’ Vice Principal at Abraham Lincoln High School in the City of Los Angeles, California. He was also the Principal of Fairfax High School, in Los Angeles, from 1964-1970.

Here is a listing of some notable games Tunney was involved in:

  • The Field Goal” – Baltimore at Green Bay (December 26, 1965) – field judge
  • The Ice Bowl” – Dallas at Green Bay (December 31, 1967) – alternate referee
  • The Kick” – Detroit at New Orleans (November 8, 1970)
  • 1979 AFC championship game– Houston at Pittsburgh (January 6, 1980) (In this game, Oilers wide receiver Mike Renfro was ruled to have been out of bounds on an apparent touchdown pass from Dan Pastorini late in the third quarter that would have tied the game. Replays showed that Renfro got both feet down inbounds, but Houston had to settle for a field goal.)
  • The Catch” – Dallas at San Francisco (January 10, 1982)
  • “The 100th Game” – Green Bay at Chicago (November 20, 1983)
  • The Snowball Game” – San Francisco at Denver (November 11, 1985)
  • The Fumble” – Cleveland at Denver (January 17, 1988)
  • The Fog Bowl” – Philadelphia at Chicago (December 31, 1988)

Tunney is the last referee to conduct the coin toss for the Super Bowl, and was also the first referee to supervise a coin toss conducted by a special guest. Prior to Super Bowl XII, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Red Grange tossed the coin at the Louisiana Superdome.

Tunney and Ben Dreith are the only referees from the 1970 season, the first following the AFL-NFL merger, still living.

Tunney is a speaker and author, he has authored, Impartial Judgment: “The Dean of NFL Referees” Calls Pro Football As He Sees It, 1988, Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul, 2000, It’s The Will, Not The Skill, 2004, “101 Best of Tunney Side of Sports” 2014

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