Succeeding a legend is never an easy task. For Jerry Seeman, stepping into Art McNally’s shoes as director of officiating meant the first change at the top of the Officiating Department in almost two decades.
Seeman was determined to make his mark, and he did: During his tenure, he oversaw the removal — and the return — of instant replay review and devised the most thorough evaluation process that football officiating had ever seen.
His appointment to the top job, after 15 years on the field, was the culmination of his steady climb up the officiating ladder from line judge to head linesman to referee. He was the referee in two Super Bowls (XXIII and XXV) and also worked 15 playoff games and two Pro Bowls over his career.
Seeman was equally devoted to officiating as he was to the men who wore the stripes.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction for me in seeing people grow and become the best they can be,” Seeman said. “That’s why I’ve dedicated myself to this.”
The beginning of Seeman’s tenure as director of officiating coincided with the opening of a centralized NFL officiating command center — a technology upgrade that helped make his exhaustive evaluation system possible. Seeman set out to create the ultimate grading process, and the new facility made it much faster and easier for Seeman and his team to review and organize every play of every game.
“It’s true that the evaluations are microscopic, but that’s what makes our officials so great,” Seeman told Referee magazine in 1993.
Seeman demanded excellence, not perfection, with his officials. He recognized the reality of human error, but didn’t accept mistakes due to unpreparedness. He set up rigorous clinics to keep crews at the top of their game.
He worked to revamp the instant replay review system, which had been scrapped in 1992, shortly after he took over, because it was cumbersome and ineffective. Under his leadership, the Officiating Department improved the process enough for the league’s owners to reinstate instant replay review in 1999.
After a lengthy battle with cancer, Seeman died in November 2013 at age 77. His jersey number, 70, was the first official’s number to be retired by the NFL. In addition, NFL officials honored him by wearing a patch with his initials on their hats for the remainder of the 2013 season, including in Super Bowl XLIII.