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Jerry Markbreit

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Title: Jerry Markbreit  
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Subject: Super Bowl XVII, Super Bowl XXVI, Super Bowl XXI, Super Bowl XXIX, 1979 Pro Bowl
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Jerry Markbreit

Jerry Markbreit
Born (1935-03-23) March 23, 1935
Chicago, Illinois
Education University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Occupation Former National Football League official

Jerry Markbreit (born March 23, 1935) is a former American football referee in the National Football League (NFL) for 23 seasons and became one of the most recognizable referees in the game.[1] Markbreit officiated football games for 43 seasons. From 1965 to 1975, Markbreit officiated college football games in the Big Ten Conference. He then joined the NFL in 1976 as a line judge before being promoted to the head referee position in just his second year. His uniform number in the league was 9, which is now worn by Mark Perlman. Until he retired from the NFL after the 1998 season, Markbreit officiated in two wild card (1991 and 1994), ten divisional (1979, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1995, 1997, and 1998), eight conference championship (1980, 1983, 1984, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, and 1996) playoff games, one Pro Bowl (1978), and four Super Bowls: Super Bowl XVII, Super Bowl XXI, Super Bowl XXVI, and Super Bowl XXIX and was an alternate in Super Bowl XIX, Super Bowl XXII, and Super Bowl XXVIII.[2][3] To date, he is the only NFL head referee to officiate four Super Bowl games.

Until 2008, he wrote a weekly sports column for the Chicago Tribune during the football season.


  • Career 1
  • Incidents 2
    • Woody Hayes confrontation 2.1
    • The Holy Roller 2.2
    • Super Bowl XVII coin toss 2.3
    • Charles Martin and Jim McMahon 2.4
  • Books by Markbreit 3
  • Quotes 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6


Markbreit began officiating in intramural college fraternity games 1953, after nearly being seriously injured several times attempting to play college football at the University of Illinois.

Markbreit began officiating as a career in 1957, when he joined the Central Officials Association, and began working public league and junior varsity games. By the late 1950s, Markbreit was officiating high school games, including several with the teenage Dick Butkus.

Markbreit entered the Big Ten Conference as a back judge at the beginning of 1966 season, and became a referee at the end of the following season. He served as the back judge in the "Game of the Century" on November 19, 1966 between top-ranked Notre Dame and second-ranked Michigan State, and was the referee for the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1972 between Stanford and Michigan.

Just before the beginning of the 1968 football season, Markbreit was offered (and declined) an early job offer from the NFL as a back judge. He felt that his lack of college experience would prevent him from obtaining the referee position in the NFL.

Markbreit joined the NFL as a line judge in 1976, and became a referee in 1977 upon the retirement of long-time referee Tommy Bell, who was Markbreit's crew chief during the 1976 season. The other members of Bell's crew asked NFL supervisor of officials Art McNally to leave the crew intact and they would "bring Jerry along," and McNally did, with Bill Reynolds replacing Markbreit as line judge. Markbreit retired from the field after working a playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons on January 9, 1999.

Markbreit is still very much involved in the league, as he served as an instant replay official for two years following his retirement as an active official, and currently works as an associate supervisor and head trainer for NFL referees.

His work outside of football has included advertising sales for Where Magazine, and many years as a trade and barter manager for 3M.


Woody Hayes confrontation

Markbreit officiated the annual Michigan-Ohio State rivalry game at Ann Arbor on November 20, 1971.

Late in that game, furious over what he thought was a missed defensive pass interference foul committed by Thom Darden of Michigan, Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes stormed onto the field, launched a profanity-laced tirade at Markbreit, and tore up the sideline markers, receiving a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. A further enraged Hayes then threw the penalty flag into the crowd, began destroying the yard markers and threw the first-down marker into the ground like a javelin before being restrained by Buckeyes team officials; Markbreit then assessed Hayes an additional 15-yard penalty but did not eject him.

On the next play, Markbreit ejected Buckeyes linebacker Randy Gradishar after Gradishar punched Wolverine quarterback Tom Slade through his facemask and started a 10 minute bench-clearing brawl. Hayes and Gradishar were both suspended for one game, and Hayes was also fined $1000.

The Holy Roller

Markbreit officiated the Holy Roller play, an infamous, controversial game-winning play executed by the Oakland Raiders against the San Diego Chargers on September 10, 1978. With 10 seconds left in the game, the Raiders had possession of the ball at the Chargers 14-yard line, trailing 20-14. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler lost the ball, and it rolled forward towards the San Diego goal line. Running back Pete Banaszak tried to recover the ball on the 12-yard line, but could not keep his footing, and the ball was pushed even closer to the end zone. Raiders tight end Dave Casper was the next player to reach the ball but he also could not get a handle on it. He batted and kicked the ball into the end zone, where he fell on it for the game-tying touchdown as time ran out. The Raiders won, 21-20, with the ensuing extra point by placekicker Errol Mann.

As referee, Markbreit had the primary responsibility of judging Stabler's actions during the play. Markbreit ruled that Stabler fumbled the ball instead of intentionally throwing a forward pass. Despite the fact that fans continue to believe it should have been called an incomplete pass, the league backed up referee Markbreit's call.[4] (A subsequent rule change made it illegal to advance a fumble in the last two minutes of a half.)

Super Bowl XVII coin toss

Markbreit botched the coin toss during Super Bowl XVII. Dolphins captain Bob Kuechenberg called "tails," and the coin came down "tails." However, Markbreit became confused by the similar design of both sides of the coin: one side had two helmets and the other side showed two players holding helmets.[5] Thus, he incorrectly thought "heads" had landed. When Markbreit became confused, NBC Sports play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg ordered his producer to cut off the microphones surrounding midfield and pull away from the tight shot involving Markbreit, Kuechenburg and Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. After a short discussion with his head linesman, Dale Hamer, Markbreit corrected his mistake before the kickoff.

Charles Martin and Jim McMahon

On November 23, 1986, Chicago native Markbreit worked as an NFL referee at Soldier Field for the first time when the Green Bay Packers visited to play the Chicago Bears. In the second quarter of the game, Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was intercepted, and as he watched the proceedings downfield, Packers defensive end Charles Martin picked up McMahon and bodyslammed him shoulder-first into the AstroTurf. Martin remained hovered over an injured McMahon on one knee and taunted him until Bears offensive tackle Jimbo Covert barreled full-speed into Martin. Despite strenuous protests from Packers coach Forrest Gregg, Markbreit ejected Martin, Markbreit's first ejection as an NFL official. When describing the penalty, Markbreit stated that Martin "stuffed" McMahon into the ground.

Martin was suspended for two games by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, the longest suspension for an on-field incident until Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was suspended five games by commissioner Roger Goodell for stomping on the face of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode during an October 1, 2006 game.[6] During the game, Martin wore a "hit list" towel with the numbers of several Bears listed, including those of McMahon, running back Walter Payton, wide receiver Willie Gault, and center Jay Hilgenberg. The call was largely credited by the media and NFL executives in helping Markbreit land the assignment as the referee of Super Bowl XXI two months later.

Books by Markbreit

  • The Armchair Referee—500 Questions and Answers about Football (ISBN 0-385-08089-1)
  • Born to Referee: My Life on the Gridiron (ISBN 0-688-07938-5)
  • Last Call: Memoirs of an NFL Referee (ISBN 1-58382-030-2)


  • "There's no such thing as perfection. Mistakes happen. Officials are so hard on themselves. When they make a mistake, nobody feels worse than they do."
  • "I had several big-time mistakes. I felt at the time that it happened, 'Why am I here?' You're heartsick about a call that you made. You want everything to be perfect. But it's not a perfect science. There's nothing perfect."
  • "I'm probably the only Jewish man who knows the Catholic mass by heart, both in English and Latin." [7]


  1. ^ "Ask The Referee".  
  2. ^ "Profile for Jerry Markbreit". Otellus. Retrieved 2006-10-15. 
  3. ^ "NFL REFEREES PLAYOFF HISTORY". Behind the Football Stripes. Retrieved 2006-10-15. 
  4. ^ Markbreit, Jerry; & Steinberg, Alan (1999). Last Call: Memoirs of an NFL Referee, pp 183-186. Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing Inc. ISBN 1-58382-030-2.
  5. ^ Nash, Bruce, and Allen Zullo (1990). The Football Hall of Shame 2, 21, Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-69413-8.
  6. ^ "Titans' Haynesworth gets five-game suspension". 2006-10-02. Archived from the original on 2006-10-13. Retrieved 2006-10-04. 
  7. ^ Host, Patrick. (2007, June 27). Yes, you've seen him. The Elkhart Truth, pg. B3. Retrieved 03-12-10.

External links

  • Ask Jerry Markbreit - Markbreit's column for the Chicago Tribune (Last accessed February 25, 2006).
  • CNN video
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