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Norm Schachter, 90; Longtime NFL Referee Officiated at Super Bowl I

October 05, 2004|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Norm Schachter, a former National Football League referee who refereed the first Super Bowl and the first Monday Night Football game, has died. He was 90.

Schachter, a former superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District, died of natural causes Saturday at a convalescent home in San Pedro, said his son, Bob.

Schachter had worked as a high school and college official in football, basketball and baseball when then-NFL Commissioner Bert Bell hired him in 1954 with a guarantee of seven games at $100 a game. During his 22 years "moonlighting" as an NFL official, the longtime Westchester resident refereed for three Super Bowls, including Super Bowls V and X, and 11 championship games.

As referee for the Super Bowl I matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1967, Schachter headed a crew of six officials backed by six alternates -- setting the first Super Bowl record, at least for the most officials.

"Who knows? Maybe they thought we would all get struck by lightning or something," he told The Times in 1993. "I just didn't want them all to walk on the field at the same time. It might have scared somebody."

Schachter's ready wit surfaced in talks at business conventions around the country and in "Close Calls: The Confessions of a NFL Referee." In the book, published in 1981, he listed the top 10 things NFL officials must bear in mind, such as:

"It's comforting to know you have a mother and father when the coaches tell you differently."

"When a player loses it in his legs, he gains it in his mouth."

And No. 1: "Don't waste time second-guessing yourself -- there will be millions who will do it for you."

Indeed, Schachter learned to take the brickbats in stride.

In a 1972 interview with The Times, he recalled working the Bears-Giants championship game in 1963. At halftime, he received a telegram from his eye doctor: "SAW FIRST HALF. TIME FOR NEW PRESCRIPTION."

Then there was the time he was officiating a Rams-49er game in Los Angeles in the late 1950s and he made a call against the home team. His oldest son, then about 9, was in the stands. Afterward, Schachter had a talk with the boy.

"Tom," he said, "you've got to take it as an impersonal thing when the crowd gets on your dad like that.... I know you probably heard a lot of talk in the stands. and I hope you didn't take it personally."

"I took it personally," his son replied. "You blew the call."

Born in Brooklyn on April 30, 1914, Schachter received his bachelor's and doctorate degrees from Alfred University in New York and his master's from USC.

He began his academic career as a high school English teacher and coach and began officiating in 1941 in Redlands, Calif.

After serving as a captain in the Marines in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to teaching and officiating in 1946. Two years later, his basketball team at Washington High School won the L.A. City Championship.

From the mid-1960s to the early '70s, Schachter was principal at Los Angeles High School. He was an area superintendent for Los Angeles schools from 1971 to 1978.

Schachter flew about 120,000 miles a season for his weekend job with the NFL. Off-season, he'd coach his sons' Little League teams and other teams.

Comparing college games to pro football, Schachter told United Press International in 1975: "You have guys 6 [feet] 7, 260 pounds running around like locomotives. I mean, they move. You've got to be on the ball, and you've got to be in shape."

Among the memorable games were those played on frozen fields, particularly the Dec. 31, 1967, playoff game between Dallas and Green Bay that came down to the last few seconds.

Schachter, whose whistle had frozen by the opening kickoff, said ignoring an unofficial league rule that officials not wear earmuffs "was the best call I made all day."

After retiring from the field after Super Bowl X, Schachter continued to work for the NFL, observing and grading officials. He edited the NFL's rule book, helped write the officials' manual and wrote weekly exams for NFL officiating crews.

In addition to "Close Calls," Schachter wrote "The NFL's Toughest Calls" and was co-author of "The Gladiators," a book about football players. He also wrote 12 English and vocabulary textbooks, including "English the Easy Way," which is used in schools nationally and internationally.

Charlotte, his wife of 56 years, died in 1997. In addition to Bob, Schachter is survived by sons Tom and Jim and eight grandchildren.

A private funeral service is planned.

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