PART 4: ‘ARE YOU SITTING DOWN, MR. BROWN?’

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Redlands. USC. Alhambra. Modesto. Kansas State. Utah. U.S. Olympic team? The NBA’s Utah Jazz?

“Black” Jack Gardner’s basketball insight was apparently so keen that he was selected as the 1964 tryouts coach for the U.S. Olympic team. Princeton’s Bill Bradley, North Carolina’s Larry Brown, UCLA’s Walt Hazzard and a few other future NBA players were on that gold medal-winning squad.

A few years earlier at Utah, 6-foot-9 center Billy McGill led the NCAA in scoring (38.8), 1961, including a memorable 60-point game in a 106-101 rivalry game win over BYU.

Gardner, also known as “The Fox,” knew how to coach against the biggest names in basketball – nearly against Kansas’ Wilt Chamberlain and went up against University of San Francisco’s Bill Russell. If Gardner hadn’t moved on to Utah from Kansas State, he’d have had to scheme against Wild twice a year.

Truth is, he tried to recruit Wilt when he was in high school.

As for Russell, imagine the excitement in Utah when Gardner called Russell’s Dons “the greatest team ever assembled.”

BIll Russell (Photo by Commons)
University of San Francisco’s Bill Russell, who led the Dons to a pair of NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956, went up against Utah in one of those tournaments. Unable to stop Russell, Utah coach Jack Gardner watched his team lose, 92-77 (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

His top player at Utah, McGill, had scrimmaged in Los Angeles summer leagues against Russell and Chamberlain. McGill was one of the L.A. best players when he led Jefferson High to a pair of city titles. Scrimmaging against Chamberlain? Russell?

“That was a player I had to have,” said Gardner, referring to McGill.

Bill_McGill_basketball (Photo by Commons)
Billy McGill, one of Utah’s greatest players during the era when Redlands’ Jack Gardner coached in Salt Lake City, led the NCAA with 38.8 points. He scored 60 in a narrow win over BYU as a senior. While in high school, McGill scrimmaged against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Scheming against Chamberlain and Russell was another matter.

During a 1998 phone chat, Gardner asked, “Are you sitting down, Mr. Brown?”

As a matter of fact, I was. He was about to offer insight into the background in coaching against two of basketball’s greatest icons. Sitting down? I should’ve called for some oxygen. Or sedation. This was a dream for a small-town reporter: Moments like these.

“Is it possible in anyone’s thinking out there,” mused Gardner, “that Mr. Russell and Mr. Chamberlain could be considered as equals in this sport?”

Russell’s 1956 USF squad, which took a 29-0 record into the NCAA Tournament, knocked off ranked teams – No. 8 UCLA, Gardner’s 18th-ranked Utah, No. 7 Southern Methodist and No. 4 Iowa – and the Dons beat them all by at least 11 points.

Iowa, the Big Ten champ for the second straight year, came into the NCAA final on a 17-game win streak of its own before losing, 83-71.

Utah lost, 92-77, to the Dons in the West Region final.

“You had to figure a way to score against Mr. Russell,” said Gardner. “What’d we have – 77 points? It’s not bad, but their defense led them to score a lot of points.”

Hal Perry, an All-Tournament player, along with future Boston Celtic guard K.C. Jones was part of the Dons’ mystique, not to mention Russell.

“No one plays this game alone,” said Gardner.

“Regardless of what anyone else says, including Mr. (Red) Auerbach in Boston. It’s a team game, always has been a team game and, for the winning teams, always will be a team game.”

Include Chamberlain on that discussion.

Wilt Chamberlain (Photo by Commons link)
Wilt Chamberlain, who left Kansas one year early to play for the Harlem Globetrotters before settling in on an NBA career, played against L.A. school phenom Billy McGill in summer leagues. Redlands’ Jack Gardner recruited McGill to Utah, saying, “That was a player I had to have.” (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Anytime you played a team with Mr. Chamberlain on it,” he said, “you had to draw up a defense to stop him – just like you had to devise a good offensive game plan against Mr. Russell. You see the similarity there?”

Playing against Russell was mythic. Gardner’s teams never had a chance to play against Wilt.

But Russell versus any other team, or Chamberlain against other teams posed remarkably similar problems, reflected Gardner. “You really have to be good at both ends,” said the Redlands-based Hall of Famer, “no matter who you’re playing against.

“If you’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to be able to score and you’ve also got to be able to stop the other team. Coaches have to have defense and offense in the court.”

He came close to coaching against Chamberlain, a Kansas sophomore, in 1957. Utah finished 16-8 overall in 1956-57. “You had to win your conference to get into the (NCAA) tournament,” he said, “which was only 32 teams then.”

The headline was this: Chamberlain, still at Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School, had been promised to Kansas back in the days when Gardner was still coaching at Kansas State.

“Yes. I was after him,” said Gardner. “I had my ways. KU was better than Kansas. They hid him from me. I couldn’t get to him.

“I think you know what I mean, Mr. Brown.”

That 1957 season, though. Lost some close Mountain States Athletic Conference games – by five to Denver, by four to BYU, plus a four-point loss to Utah State.

“Turn those games around,” Gardner said, “which we should’ve won – I remember all of them – and we’d have gone up against Kansas. I can tell you that.”

Out of the blue, I asked Gardner a fairly personal question, basketball-related, of course. “You’re a USC guy. Did you ever think of coaching there?”

The answer was quick. “Never had a chance,” he said. “Things didn’t work out. I was a USC guy … you’re right about that.”

“Black” Jack coached against his Trojans – 3-8 against them, in fact.

gardner_jack (Photo by Utah Jazz)
“Black” Jack Gardner, who started playing basketball at Redlands High School in 1928, capped his hoops career working for the NBA’s Utah Jazz in 1991. (Photo by Utah Jazz).

Gardner-at-Utah was legendary. There was another Redlands Connection. Shortly after serving his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, onetime Long Beach State recruit Jon Hansen, a 6-foot-5, sharp-shooting Redlands High alum, decided to transfer to Utah.

For years, Hansen saw the likeness of Jack Gardner at Utah – heard the stories, even met the man.

Years after graduation, Hansen learned something new about Gardner. They were both Terriers. He seemed overwhelmed by such a notion. Said Hansen: “He graduated from Redlands High School?”

It was a surprising revelation about a man he’d only viewed from afar – having graduated 56 years apart from the same high school campus. It was in 2000 that Gardner died, age 90, in Salt Lake City.

There was a list of Top 100 college coaches released in 2011. Most basketball fans would know the names. Gardner was slotted in at No. 27, one spot ahead of Kansas legend Phog Allen and four spots behind Tarkanian.

At the top, of course, was John Wooden.

BILLICK CAME OUT SWINGING FOR EVENTUAL NFL HALL OF FAMER

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Brian Billick told off the world on his star defensive player, Ray Lewis.

It was about time for Super Bowl XXXV.

Lewis, who was the Baltimore Ravens’ star middle linebacker, had been linked to the murder of two men in Atlanta. It came just after a Super Bowl that the Ravens hadn’t even played.

Here was Billick, cast in the role as Lewis’ protector – as if this rugged defender that could knock down anyone in the NFL needed a protector – in a pushback role to NFL media.

I’ll never forget Billick – watching on TV, of course – telling the media they weren’t qualified to cast themselves into the role of cop reporter. I can still remember, “We’re not going to retry this.”

That particular incident took place about one year earlier. All charges had been dropped against Lewis. Not enough evidence. If not for the glaring spotlight of the Super Bowl, all matters would have been ignored.

Don’t ask, Billick was telling the media. He was, in fact, demanding it. It might have been the most memorable part of that year’s Super Bowl, in fact.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Truth is, Redlands’ Brian Billick has been surrounded by NFL Hall of Famers, ranging from Bill Walsh and Tom Landry in the 1970s to the 2018 inductees, Randy Moss and Ray Lewis. Billick sounded off to the world on Lewis just before Super Bowl XXXV. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

It was Super Bowl week. The Ravens, 85-67 under Billick over nine seasons, were getting set to take on the New York Giants for the National Football League championship in 2000 – which they did, convincingly.

A few weeks later, Billick took time to share his thoughts with me.

On Lewis? No, I wasn’t asking him to retry. Or for any insight into the matter. Just how hard was it going through all that? How much of a distraction? Couldn’t have been much. After all, I told him, “you won, 34-7.”

“Boy, was that hard,” he told me in the same command performance manner he’d taken on with the media. “I still can’t believe I had to go through all that. How we, as an organization, had to go through all that. That never happened when I was at Redlands, believe me.”

Ray Lewis (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Ray Lewis was a mainstay on the Baltimore Ravens’ defense during Brian Billick’s 9-year tenure. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Billick, of course, was a star player at Redlands High, a 1972 graduate before setting sail to play at Air Force Academy and, eventually, at Brigham Young University. After a possible playing career was negated at Dallas and San Francisco in 1977, his coaching career started in 1978 in Redlands, of all places.

Two decades later, a myriad of assistant coaching stops along the way, Billick surfaced as Ravens’ coach.

Years later, Feb. 2, 2018, to be exact, Billick had another NFL Hall Famer. Lewis was, in fact, being inducted in with seven others, including another Billick protégé, wide receiving great Randy Moss.

Yes, Billick had worked in Minnesota – under head coach Denny Green – with a number of NFL Hall-bound greats.

Lewis was the focus on the ambulance-chasing media heading into the Tampa Bay showdown with the Giants. Billick admitted he was set for the showdown the media.

“Yeah,” said Billick, “I had to try and attract all the attention to me. I didn’t have to play. Ray Lewis did have to play. I needed his attention – all his attention – on that game.”

It was the old hit-‘em-in-the-mouth-before-they-hit-you routine. It worked.

Truth is, Billick has coached numerous Hall of Famers – Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Jonathan Ogden, and that’s a yes on Deion Sanders in Baltimore after his years in Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas.

During Billick’s Minnesota days, there was, of course, Moon, plus Cris Carter and the great Moss.

No, don’t get him to talk about a missed field in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta “Dirty Bird” Falcons. Carter, Moss and QB Randall Cunningham should’ve been more than enough firepower for the Vikings to win that game.

Billick has been surrounded himself by Hall of Fame talent. He was in Dallas for awhile. Anyone remember Tom Landry?

Also in San Francisco, albeit briefly, where Bill Walsh was running the 49ers.

When Billick’s command performance with media via Lewis had ended, what did he think?

“I’d knocked them on their ass.”

 

 

 

Part 2: SCHUMACHER RACING TEAM SIGNED REDLANDS ROCKET

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

By 2016, one of racing’s premier teams, Don Schumacher Racing, signed her. All of which means Leah Pritchett’s getting top crew support, best chances to win, plus top-level sponsorships.

It costs big bucks every time she makes a pass on a drag racing strip.

As for her spot in the sport, consider that Leah was battling right up to the final month for a season championship. Four wins. 2,452 points. Just 238 points behind series champion Brittany Force.

Force won the title. Gary Pritchett’s team driven by Steve Torrence, took runner-up. Doug Kalitta and 2016 champion Antron Brown took 3-4 in the standings.

Leah’s season was remarkably consistent.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
The Papa John’s-sponsored Redlands Rocket, Leah Pritchett, celebrates another victory. She’s had five Top Fuel triumphs, which is the fastest of the four NHRA divisions. Pritchett has appeared in national commercials for her sponsor. (Photo by LeahPritchett.com).

Langdon, the Mira Loma Meteor, plus eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, her teammate, finished behind Pritchett in the 2017 driver’s standings.

She’s one of seven women in the top four levels – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Motorcyles – and joins Force as the only two in the sport’s fastest division.

Leah has earned her place in a field where Shirley Muldowney carted away the first championship by a woman back in 1977.

She beat Kalitta in the Winternationals finals to kick off 2017 in Pomona.

Two weeks later in Phoenix at Wild Horse Park, Pritchett edged Force in a speed-filled finale.

In Gainesville, Fla., Leah kept beating all comers until Brown, the series champion one year earlier, knocked her off in the semifinals.

She made it three wins over five events, edging her husband’s team driver, Torrence, at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas.

Torrence got back at her in North Carolina, at the National Four-Wide, but Leah posted a weekend-best 3.747-second E.T.

Torrence beat her in the Southern Nationals semifinals again in Commerce, Ga. Again, however, Pritchett’s 3.699 E.T. was low for the weekend, not to mention the weekend’s best reaction time, 0.23-second.

She’s fast. Quick-triggered. And consistent.

You can’t turn her off, though. She made it past all comers to reach the Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kan., losing to Brown in the semifinals.

In New England, she posted the best R.T. (0.36), getting beat by Brown in the semifinals. He lost to Force, who has been building up a points reservoir halfway through the season.

At the Summer Nationals at Englishtown, N.J., Schumacher got her in the opening round. Her R.T. (0.46) in that first-round loss, though, was best of the weekend.

The Redlands Connection keeps making a splash at every stop, it seems.

At the Bristol (Conn.) Dragway, her 3.798 E.T. was best of the weekend, knocking off Troy Coughlin, Jr., Scott Palmer and Norco’s Langdon to reach the finals against Clay Millican, who won despite Leah’s better 0.58 R.T.

Leah reached the semifinals in Ohio.

At the Mile High Nationals in Bendimere, Colo., Leah beat Coughlin, Millican and Schumacher to square off against Brown in the finals. Brown, but the numbers were eerily similar – Pritchett’s 324 mph was faster, but Brown had the edge on R.T. (0.47 to 0.59) and E.T. (3.792 to 3.816).

Talk about consistency.

On Aug. 20 at Brainerd (Minn.) Raceway, Leah scored season victory No. 4 – Passey, Palmer and Millican – before squaring off against Brown again. She won with a 328 mph pass, notching her fifth career Wally.

At Lucas Raceway in Indianapolis, Torrence beat Leah in the semifinals, but she posted a weekend low 3.711 E.T. after beating Wayne Newby and Pat Dakin.

She posted the top speed (332.75 mph) in Madison, Ill., but she was stopped in the second round by Torrence, the eventual champion.

Force, the eventual Top Fuel champion, beat Leah in the semifinals at The Strip in Las Vegas, but the two put on quite a speed duel – 329 to 323, 0.77 to 0.93 (R.T.) and 3.714 to 3.754.

At the season finale in Pomona, it was a full force of speed with every Top Fuel team gunning for a showcase victory.

Force edged Langdon in the finals at the Auto Club Raceway. Leah was beaten by Langdon in a second round speed showdown in which the Mira Loma Meteor sizzled just past the Redlands Rocket.

The Redlands Connection racer, who turns 30 in May, is still alive on the Top Fuel circuit. The season kicks off this week.

Watch www.redlandsconnection.com for season updates.

 

 

 

Part 1: NHRA SEASON OPENS, DRAGSTER STAR LEAH (PRUETT) PRITCHETT READY

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

(It’s 2018. Super Bowl Sunday means only one thing in the world to National Hot Road Association followers. One week later, it’s the NHRA season opener. In Pomona. Twenty-four showdowns. Every two weeks, it’s on. From the season-opening Winternationals to the drag racing finals in November, both at the Pomona Fairplex, incidentally, speed finds a way to entertain.)

Leah Pritchett, known to her Redlands cohorts as Leah Pruett, will be among those in line to try and chase down a season drag racing championship. Fifth place last season, Pritchett notched wins in the first two races in 2017, starting at Pomona – winning four times throughout the season.

Ron, Lindsey Pruett
Ron Pruett, left, and Leah Pruett, now Leah Pritchett, stand alongside the family dragster in the early days of her racing career. (Photo by Pruett family).

She’s a Top Fuel dragster. This is a huge connection to the auto racing world. A queen among speed thrill-seekers. Leah, 29, whose older sister, Lindsey, got first crack on the track when her dad, Ron, started building junior dragsters.

Leah was eight when she started racing. No soccer. No volleyball. No softball. No track & field or cross country.

Think of the cost. You don’t buy those cars in a kit at K-Mart or Sears, folks. Lots of detail, lots of attention, lots of expertise – not to mention expense – goes into each machine.

Ron’s Precision Alignment, located down on Park Street, was headquarters for Pruett’s car-racing dreams. A few years back, he sold out. It left Ron and wife Linda to move back east, to North Carolina – NASCAR country – while Leah sought her career in a Top Fuel speed machine.

The sponsors over the years – Gumout, Papa John’s, Albrecht’s, Mopar, Pennzoil, FireAde 200, among others – have kept her in the cockpit.

At 5-foot-9, Leah’s gorgeous. Married to Gary Pritchett, car chief for Torrence Racing. Leah’s a surfer, really into physical fitness – check out her body on the internet – all balanced by her mind. She’s a Cal State San Bernardino graduate.

Speed? She’s got it to burn.

Leah’s gone from the Sportsmen’s division to Nitro Funny Cars to Pro Mod to winning a Hot Rod Heritage Series and, finally, in 2013, she landed in a Top Fuel dragster for Dote Racing.

I can remember when Ron invited me up to his Redlands home to view the junior dragster he created for Lindsey. At least, I think it was Lindsey’s. Ron, who was a speed demon himself – setting land speed records in Utah, plus various points around Southern California – chose a different sport for his girls.

Drag racing.

Ron fed me all of his daughters’ achievements – Lindsey’s and Leah’s – for publication in the local paper. There were 37 junior wins for Leah at various tracks throughout SoCal.

Ron himself was a star on the circuit – a 12-time land speed record holder. I don’t think he ever reached the speed his youngest daughter ever registered, though.

Ron Pruett
Ron Pruett proudly holds a Wally trophy, which indicates a speed-filled victory on a drag-racing track. (Photo by Pruett family).

Speed, though. Leah was born into the chase.

It would ludicrous to list all of Leah’s achievements from the junior circuit to her Top Fuel days in which she held (as of Jan. 17, 2018) the fastest speed at 332.75 over a thousand yards which brought a 3.64 elapsed time – both world records.

Drag racing underwent a change a few years back when distances were shortened from 1,320 yards, a quarter-mile, to 1,000 yards. It was safer. It probably killed any further hopes of increasing speed milestones.

Then there’s the Wally trophy. Named for Wally Parks, the sport’s founder who took street racing and put it on the track, a Wally goes to each week’s champion.

Ron’s got a few Wallys.

Leah’s got a handful. More are likely to come. She’s got the team, sponsor and experience is gradually growing.

At Pomona, it’s a home track for Leah, especially since she raced there as a kid.

Back in 2014, assigned to cover Winternationals for an area newspaper, my assignment was to land a connection on the locals – Funny Car’s “Fast” Jack Beckman of Norco, plus Top Fuel’s Shawn Langdon from Mira Loma. And Leah.

“Do I remember you, Obrey?” she asked in amazement. “Are you kidding? Of course, I remember you. You’re some of my best memories.”

That brought a nice streak of electricity up my spine.

For my article in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, I got more than I needed from her. Leah brought me up to date on her folks, who’d moved back east. Ron had sold his Redlands business. Lindsey was teaching in Redlands.

Leah was just getting started. Patrons of the sport might tend to overlook what it takes to arrive where Leah was just reaching. This isn’t a sport. It’s a career. Racing just a portion of the 2013 schedule, Leah racked up 15th place.

Leah’s won at tracks in Denver and Indianapolis, which is near her home in Avon, Ind. She’s driven speed cars like Mustangs and Camaros. Speed records came with some of those drives.

Twice, though, she was part of teams that shut down, leaving her without a ride – and those much-needed sponsors.

Leah Pritchett – the Redlands Rocket.

Part 2 tomorrow.

SCHACHTER: FLAGGED FOR BAD CALL BY ROZELLE

NFL head referee Norm Schachter, whose early beginnings in education and officiating took place in Redlands, is shown at halftime with Kansas City Chiefs’ coach Hank Stram at the first Super Bowl at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Note: Schachter was known for wearing jersey No. 56, so it’s unclear why he’s wearing No. 60. Unknown photo credit, most likely by Associated Press.

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

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.

JOhn Fouch, Sr
John Fouch, Sr., a Santa Ana product who moved to Redlands to raise his family, played in the same USC backfield as Frank Gifford, eventually spending 15 years as an NFL referee (photo by Santa Ana College).

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.

Pete_Rozelle_and_George_Halas
Pete Rozelle, left, who once served as a public relations specialist when the Rams trained in Redlands throughout the 1950s, shakes hands with George “Papa Bear” Halas, the longtime owner, coach and general manager of the Chicago Bears. Halas drafted Redlands’ Greg Horton in the 1974 NFL draft – third round out of Colorado. All part of a Redlands Connection. Photo by Jim Summaria

“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.