| Overall UK Wins: 2 | Overall UK Losses: 0 | Win % 100 |
Date of Death: February 20, 1986
Hometown: Lexington, KY
Alma Mater: Kentucky
For a generalized listing of officials, please consult this page.
|12/14/1953||Wake Forest at Kentucky||W||101 - 69||31||21||32||45||2||2||-||Bob Forsythe and Tommy Bell|
|2/25/1961||Alabama at Kentucky||W||80 - 53||20||20||32||27||0||1||-||Tommy Bell and Jack Durkin (worked game after Julius Sneed and Dave Scobey could not make game due to heavy snow.)|
Obituary - Louisville Courier-Journal (February 21, 1986)
Tommy Bell, Who Went 'that extra mile,' Dies at 63
by Earl Cox
Tommy Bell would have liked what National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle said about him yesterday.
Rozelle, after being told that the Lexington attorney and former NFL referee had died at 8:15 a.m. yesterday of acute leukemia at St. Joseph Infirmary in Lexington, said, "Tommy Bell was one class person, such a vital person."
Speaking from his New York City headquarters, Rozelle added: "As a referee, Tommy Bell gave the league what he personified - class, integrity and competence, things that personified him throughout his life and all of his activities. He was one of several of our officials who were tremendous successes outside football."
Dr. Otis Singletary knows
The University of Kentucky president ordered campus flags lowered to half-staff to honor one of its most distinguished graduates. Bell had served as a member of the university's board of trustees and was a member of its Athletics Association Board when he died at 63. He led a successful fund-raising drive for the university and was involved in various state-wide civic functions.
"I personally have lost one of the best friends I had," said Singletary. "Tommy was a truly valuable trustee .... and the university has lost one of its most valuable supporters."
Singletary found a way to honor bell one last time in a small way on Jan. 21.
Bell arrived late for an Athletics Board meeting. It was obviously a chore for him even to be there and it was painful for his friends to see him.
All of the seats around the Board table were taken when Bell arrived, but he wouldn't allow the members to squeeze together to make room for him.
But when the Board voted to establish a scholarship to honor Singletary, the university president excused himself and asked Bell to preside.
It was a nice touch.
Tommy Bell and the National Football League became national television stars together during his 15 years in the league. He worked Super Bowls III and VII.
The movements of the NFL's premier referee were so precise, that smiling face so familiar, that shrill voice so obviously in command, that it just made both players and fans feel like everything was under control when he would lower his arm and blow his whistle to signal the start of another game.
There were no problems when No. 7 was in charge.
And Bell's competence and Rozelle's complete trust in him cost him the honor of working his third Super Bowl the year he retired.
Bell told me the story last year: "I was scheduled to work the Super Bowl the year I retired in 1976. That was the season when Pittsburgh and Oakland had had all their trouble during the regular season. And when they advanced to the AFC championship game, Pete called me and said, 'Tommy, I need you to work the Raiders-Steelers,' The NFL had a rule that wouldn't allow the officials to work two playoff games."
Bell delighted in being told that one of the meanest linemen in the NFL had written in his biography that Bell was the most respected referee in the league, the one that players liked to see with the whistle.
I asked him how he - at 5 feet 7 - controlled the behemoths of the NFL, knowing that it was wit humor and common sense.
"I did it like this," he said. "If I heard someone curse me, I would say, 'Excuse me, I didn't hear that. Would you mind repeating what you said?' It never failed. The players got it out of their system and never repeated it."
The NFL learned early that it had something special in Thomas Pearce Bell, Referee.
He worked a Chicago Bears game his first time out. George Halas, the coach and owner of the Bears, complained o Bell about a call.
"Son," said Halas, "if you call like that, you won't last in this league."
Replied Bell to one of the NFL founding father: "Mr. Halas, if I can't call like that, I don't want to officiate in this league."
Halas laughed, put his arm around Bell and said: "Son, you're going to be all right!"
That recent day last month in the UK board room, Bell told about working the "Joe Namath Super Bowl."
"At the two-minute mark, Namath came up to me and said, 'Mr. Bell, we were worried about you because you are a National Football League referee and the Jets are in the American Football League. But I want to thank you for the way you've called,' But I said, 'What do you mean, My team is behind!'"
Added Bell: "Joe and I have used that at many a banquet."
Bell asked me not to use this when he told me, but it will be OK now. He wore No. 7, but when he retired the NFL went to a new numbering system, assigning a different number to each official in the league.
Said Bell, with a chuckle: "All of the referees (the men n charge of each team of officials) wanted my number!"
Bell was proud of that.
"That's true," said Rozelle yesterday. "That was the referee's tribute to him. We've never had an official so admired by our other officials."
One of the reasons other officials have so much respect for Bell was that he always told his crew members that they would back each other up, according to Walter Cox, a partner in Bell's law firm. "And Tommy would take his crew to church every Sunday," said Cox, who was a freshman with Bell at UK in 1940.
Bell was a star tailback at Henry Clay High School in Lexington and then played one season at a New Jersey prep school. He played in a couple UK games in 1940, his friend Warren Leet said yesterday. But at 140 pounds, he was just too small. And he learned that fact all over again when he tried again after World War II under a new coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant.
But Bryant thought so much of him that he helped Bell become a football and basketball official in the Southeastern Conference, which led to the NFL.
"Tommy is the only man ever to work an NCAA Final Four and the Super Bowl," said Leet, a Lexingtonian who was best man at Bell's wedding.
Said Cox: "Tommy always was vivacious and it was contagious. He had a zest for life; he always was doing things above and beyond. He wanted to excel. That's what causes people to want to be president. He had the desire to succeed."
Cox said that when Bell spoke to the Kentucky Bar Association in Louisville last year, he told them that NFL players play hurt - they always are hurt, but they are people who go that extra mile.
Bell learned in 1978 that he had leukemia and he underwent a triple-bypass heart operation three years ago.
Said Cox: "Tommy has played hurt and gone that extra mile the last eight years."
Bell is survived by his wife, the former Leslie Bruce, and a son, Bruce, who also is an attorney and a member of his father's firm, Fowler, Measle & Bell.
Visitation at Milward Funeral Home, 159 N. Broadway in Lexington, will be today from 2-5 p.m and 7-9 p.m. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Southland Christian Church on Harrodsburg Road, just south of the New Circle Road. Burial will follow in Lexington Cemetery.