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Dr. Jim Tunney was an American football official in the National Football League (NFL) from 1960 to 1991. In his 31 years as an NFL official, Jim 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.

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 (NASO). He wore uniform number 32 for most of his career, but when the NFL numbered each position separately from 1979 through 1981 rather than assigning one number per official, he wore number 3. 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".

Officials who worked on Tunney's crew for many years included former NFL great Pat Harder at umpire and head linesman Burl Toler, the NFL's first African-American official.

After graduating from Occidental Collegemarker 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 1991 AFC Championship Game between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Raiders played January 20, 1991.

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 Californiamarker (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.

Memorable Games

Here is a listing of some of the more memorable games Jim has been involved in:

  • "The Field Goal" - Baltimore at Green Bay (12/26/65)--field judge
  • "The Ice Bowl" - Dallas at Green Bay (12/31/67)--alternate referee
  • "The Kick" - Detroit at New Orleans (11/8/70)
  • 1979 AFC championship game - Houston at Pittsburgh (1/6/80) (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 Refro got both feet down inbounds, but Houston had to settle for a field goal.)
  • "The Catch" - Dallas at San Francisco (1/10/82)
  • "The 100th Game" - Green Bay at Chicago (11/20/83)
  • "The Snowball Game" - San Francisco at Denver (11/11/85)
  • "The Fumble" - Cleveland at Denver (1/17/88)
  • "The Fog Bowl" - Philadelphia at Chicago (12/31/88)

Other Game Notes

  • 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 Famemarker running back Red Grange tossed the coin at the Louisiana Superdomemarker.
  • During the 1987 AFC Championship game, two legendary referees were on the field when Earnest Byner fumbled near the goal line late in the contest. Alternate referee Jerry Seeman was forced to take over at field judge (now back judge) when Dick Dolack, the regular field judge who was also a long-time member of Tunney's regular season crew, pulled his hamstring on a long touchdown pass from John Elway to Mark Jackson. Seeman gave the initial signal that Denver's Jeremiah Castille recovered Byner's fumble.


Off the field, Tunney has had a long career as an educator and school administrator, starting out in 1951 as a teacher at Los Angeles' Lincoln High School, later becoming vice principal from 1959 to 1964. He then served as a principal of Los Angeles high schools Fairfax (1964-1970), Franklin (1972), and Hollywood High School (1973-74). He became assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Bellflower Unified School District in 1975 and served as the district's superintendent in 1977. He left education for 16 years before becoming headmaster from 1993 to 1994 of the York School in Monterey, Californiamarker, joining the school's board of trustees in 1995 and remaining in that post to this day. He also joined the board of trustees for Monterey Peninsula Collegemarker in 1997 and still serves on the board.

Books by Tunney

  • Impartial Judgment: "The Dean of NFL Referees" Calls Pro Football As He Sees It, 1988 (ISBN 0-531-15095-X)
  • Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan's Soul, 2000 (ISBN 1-55874-875-X)
  • It's The Will, Not The Skill, 2004 (ISBN 1-4134-5832-7)


  1. Jim Tunney, motivational speaker, leadership skills and more

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