From school principal to NFL official, Nemmers loved it all
Second of 2 parts
Former Elgin High School principal Larry Nemmers, a longtime Illinois High School Association football and basketball official, also was a Big Ten football official for nine years before he was hired as an NFL official in 1985. He was promoted to referee and crew chief in 1991, the same year he worked as the side judge for Super Bowl XXV. He retired from the field in 2007 and finished his career as replay official, working Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.
Nemmers, 76, lives with his wife, Sherry, in Springfield, Missouri.
In today's final Q&A installment, Nemmers reflects on his career after graduating from Upper Iowa University.
DH: You tried out for the Bears in 1965, the same year they drafted Dick Butkus and Gayle Sayers back-to-back in the first round. Ever get hit by Butkus or have to race Sayers?
Nemmers: I was a defensive back and all I remember is you did not want to try to tackle Gayle. He was an unbelievable talent. I played defense, so I never had to worry about Butkus, but I remember him being huge and menacing.
Q: You worked the 1984 Rose Bowl and went to the NFL in 1985. Did you know you were on the shortlist for the NFL?
A: I kind of did. I thought I was going to get in the year before. I was a finalist. It's based on what positions they need, so I had a pretty good idea I'd get in, but you never really know.
Q: Tell us a little known story about Super Bowl XXV.
A: One story from that game no one ever heard about was about George Toma. He was the Kansas City Chiefs' groundskeeper and for many years he has been the groundskeeper for the Super Bowl. The night before the (1991) Super Bowl, the main in the middle of the field broke and the ground between the 45s had sunk about 10 inches and he worked all night to repair the field.
Q: When you were officiating high school and college football, did you ever think you'd wear the striped shirt for a Super Bowl?
A: I never even thought about the NFL, much less a Super Bowl. I just wanted to be a Big Ten referee.
Q: You wore No. 20 throughout your NFL career. Any significance to that number?
A: No, they just handed me the jersey with No. 20 on it. We got to ask for one number and I wanted 14, but Gene Barth already had it so I didn't even ask for it. So I just took number 20 when they handed it to me.
Q: You were an alternate for Super Bowl 35. Do you have one or two Super Bowl rings and where are they now?
A: I do have two Super Bowl rings, one for 25 and one for 46. Alternates don't get rings, but I got one for 46 for being a replay official. I don't wear them out very much unless my wife makes me. I also have four Super Bowl watches.
Q: What's your best memory of officiating Super Bowl XXV?
A: Whitney Houston singing The Star-Spangled Banner. That was during the Persian Gulf War. On Saturday, we had to practice the coin toss and we got to see her sing it a half dozen times and that was incredible. I have a picture of myself with Whitney. I can remember standing on the sidelines next to Bruce Smith of the Bills and we both had tears during The Star-Spangled Banner. I had one foul in the game. I was the deep official. Over the years, I've always said Buffalo had a better team but sometimes it's just not written in the stars. Scott Norwood, who missed the field goal (with eight seconds to play that could have won the game for the Bills), was one of the nicest guys ever.
Q: After retiring from the field, you became a replay official for the NFL. Tell us about that experience.
A: When replay came out I was against it. It came out my first year as a ref and then they canceled it the next year to iron things out and came back with it the next year and now it's just part of the game that everyone accepts. Every game has a minimum of eight cameras. The toughest calls always involved a catch. The NFL has always struggled with what is a catch.
Q: If there were one rule you'd like to see changed in the NFL, what would it be?
A: All the NFL referees have an opportunity to recommend rule changes and every year I recommended the tuck rule. It's OK now but back then if the arm was going forward with control it was considered a forward pass. The other one was stopping the clock on a quarterback sack. I always wrote the NFL and asked why do we stop the clock on a quarterback sack? What I'd like to see changed now is that when there's illegal contact with a receiver it's a 5-yard penalty and an automatic first down, and I've always said it shouldn't be an automatic first down. Also, pass interference being reviewable. I think that's a travesty.
Q: When you think back on your officiating career, what are a couple of things that come to mind above all others?
A: My officiating career allowed me to meet people who became friends for a lifetime. We'd spend two days a week together for almost half a year and because you do it with so many people you make bonds that last a lifetime. Even now a couple times a week I'll talk to someone I worked with back then. You're only as good as the people you surrounded yourself with, and I was surrounded by some really good people.
Q: What are you doing today?
A: My wife and I are self-quarantined (due to COVID-19). I'm the oldest of nine and I spend time on Zoom with my siblings. I'm hoping to be able to get back to playing golf soon. I thank the good Lord every night for the life he's allowed me to live.