NORM SCHACHTER, it should be noted, was suspended along with his entire six-man crew, by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. During a crucial game between Los Angeles and Chicago on Dec. 8, 1968, Schachter’s crew denied the Rams a crucial down in a 17-16 loss to the Bears.
You never hear about stuff like that. Fifteen years later, I had a chance to ask Schachter about the play. About the call. About the suspension.
Rozelle, who played his part in Redlands during his days as the Rams’ public relations man, called the crew “competent.”
The Rams, though, had thrown three incomplete passes in the late stages of that game. A penalty flag was thrown into the mix. The down, however, was not replayed.
“The ball was turned over to Chicago,” Rozelle said in his statement, “thus depriving Los Angeles of a fourth down play to which it was entitled.”
Five seconds were remaining. Ball at L.A.’s 47. Thirty-one yards were needed for a first down.
Schachter was a class act. He came to Redlands a few times during my years at the local newspaper. Most of those visits came in the 1980s and 1990s. Seems he had some remaining “connections” there that continued for many years despite such a brief stay in Redlands during his early days.
I think guys like former student Jim Sloan, a photographer who, among others, were happy to pronounce a connection to a guy that had a bird’s eye view of pro football.
OTHER REFS FROM LOCAL AREA
There were other officials from the area, including Redlands’ John Fouch, Sr. Down the road a bit, from Rialto, was Al Jury.
Fouch, a major high school star at Santa Ana High School turned into a superstar at Santa Ana Junior College before heading off to USC, where he shared the 1949 Trojan backfield with future NFL Hall of Famer Frank Gifford.
Fouch wore NFL zebra stripes for 15 years. The head referee in his crew was Red Cashion, the guy with the enthusiastically signature, “first dowwwwwwn” call. Eventually, Fouch moved to Redlands.
After all those years away, Schachter still seemed impressed with Redlands despite moving from the small orange grove-covered community.
Schachter was generous to me with his time and comments.
Redlands, he said, “was a very nice little community when I taught and reffed here.”
Schachter carried around a significant sense of humor. He proved it with some of his responses.
I spent several minutes prepping for my interview with him. Was there ever a moment where you made a bad call – and knew it? (The suspension question would come later.)
“I don’t waste time second-guessing myself,” he said. “There’ll be millions who will do it for you.”
Talk on an NFL field must be pretty horrifying.
“Oh, really?” he said. “I never heard that.”
Sarcasm was a nice little exercise for Schachter, who probably heard it all.
“Listen,” he said, “when players lose it in their legs, they gain it in their mouths.”
Oh, yeah. It was Sloan who told me to ask him about the time his crew had been suspended.
Refs aren’t perfect, though they’re probably expected to be. That December 1968 game between the Rams and Bears might have been his lowest point.
“Holding call on the Rams,” he said, explaining the suspension. “Fifteen yards in those days. Spot foul, too. We didn’t replay the down. That was the issue.”
He looked at me. Anything else? It was like he was saying, “I dare you to ask me anything more about it.”
So I took the dare. “How many times have you been asked about that?”
That drew a slight chuckle. “I lost count around 20,000 …”
I hadn’t even planned this next question. “Ever think about the fact that it was Rozelle, that he used to work for the Rams, that suspended you?”
I can’t even recall Schachter’s response. Since I didn’t put it in my article, I didn’t record it for posterity.
It was only a six-man crew during that era. It wasn’t until 1978 that a side judge was added, making NFL officiating crews a seven-man unit. The afore-mentioned Jury was one of those “seventh” men hired that season.
“Pete hit us pretty hard with the suspension,” he said. “No more games for the rest of that season, including the playoffs. We were back the following season.”
Redlands: It’s where his officiating career began. Local games. There couldn’t have been many. High schools were scarce. San Bernardino and Riverside just had one campus, like Redlands. Colton. Chaffey, in Ontario. Fontana and Eisenhower, in Rialto, didn’t even have their own high schools.
CLOSE CALLS & CONFESSIONS
He’d written “Close Calls: Confessions of an NFL Referee” in the early 1980s. The guy was an author. An official of famous NFL games. Never read the book. Can only guess how it was presented.
He also wrote text books. After his on-field days concluded, he worked for the league writing referees’ exams and other data. He edited the league’s rules book.
His “Confessions” book: Stories, humorous anecdotes, nuggets about his professional career in education. After starting as a Redlands English teacher in 1941, Schachter eventually became a principal at Los Angeles High School, later surfacing as superintendent (1971-78) in the L.A. school system.
All the appropriate names were in “Confessions” – Lombardi, Starr, Butkus, Papa Bear, Shula, Madden, Paul Brown, Van Brocklin, you name it. Hired by Commissioner Bert Bell in the 1950s – $100 a game, 7-game minimum.
“No,” Schachter said, “none of those guys ever spent time buying me dinner and drinks.”
He retired following the 1976 Super Bowl, Pittsburgh’s 21-17 win over Dallas – Schachter’s third Super Bowl. He’d worked Green Bay’s 35-10 win over Kansas City, then Super Bowl V when Baltimore beat Dallas, 16-13, and the Steelers-Cowboys finale.
Twenty-two years in the striped shirt. Brooklyn-born, a U.S. Marine, married to Charlotte for 56 years, sired three sons, Bob, Tom and Jim. Norm Schachter studied for a doctorate at Alfred (N.Y.) University. For Schachter, the end came in San Pedro. Age 90. Died in an old folks home.
It was a long way from the famous Green Bay-Dallas “Ice Bowl” game where he was spotted wearing ear muffs in the freezing weather.
COMING – Super Bowl’s connection to Redlands.