He is known as the "Dean of NFL Referees," one of the most respected officials in the history of professional sports. In an illustrious career that spanned 31 years, he received a record 29 postseason assignments, including 10 championship games and four Super Bowls.
He is the only referee ever to work back-to-back Super Bowls (XI and XII), a distinction not likely to be duplicated,so revered that he became the first official ever named to the highly hyped "All Madden Team" in 1990 and two years later received the "Gold Whistle Award" from the National Association of Sports Officials. With a master?s and doctorate, he is also renowned as an educator, rising through the ranks from teacher, to principal, to headmaster and superintendent in a career that has covered more than 50 years.
By almost any account, Jim Tunney has had a brilliant, some might even say flawless, career ? except for this one not-so-little blemish perceived by folks in these parts. To a generation of Baltimore Colts fans Tunney is known simply as the guy who blew the call on "The Field Goal" in the "other" sudden-death game ? a 13-10 Western Conference playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 26, 1965.
Even more than 40 years later, he is still considered a vital part of this town?s football history ? the villain who denied a team led by a "wrist-band quarterback" (Tom Matte) a conference title and the chance to beat up on the Cleveland Browns (as the Packers did) to claim the last NFL championship before the Super Bowl came into being.
"No kidding," Tunney, now 78, says knowingly, when told he still has a place in Baltimore's football past. He?s heard all the lines ? many from Don Shula, who?s now a semi-regular golf partner on the Monterey, Calif. peninsula that Tunney calls home and the former Colts coach calls a vacation site.
"Shula brings it up all the time," says Tunney, who has been retired from the NFL since 1991 and is now a highly successful motivational speaker. "I keep telling him, ?Don, you?ve got 347 wins, nobody?s ever going to beat that, and you?re still trying to get No. 348. It?s been 42 years ? let it go.? " Knowing full well, of course, that neither Shula nor the Baltimore faithful will ever "get over it."
"The Field Goal Game" is one that is prominently mentioned on Tunney?s Web site ? and he has no problem rehashing his call, which he insists was correct.
"The thing that made it bad for both Shula and (Packers coach Vince) Lombardi was that Don Chandler kicked his foot on the ground, thinking the kick was going off, and the ball was way above the goal post."
Chandler?s controversial 22-yarder with 1:58 remaining sent the game into overtime, where another Chandler field goal won it for the Packers.
In those days, the NFL used only five officials, and the back judge (Tunney?s assignment that day) was the only official under the goal. "It was maybe 18 to 20 feet up [the goal posts then were only 10 feet high], and I moved to the side and had to draw a [visual] line as it crossed over. The wind was blowing a little and blew the ball back. It may have looked like it was going wide [to Chandler], but it came back.
"That play did cause two changes before the next season," Tunney said. "They raised the goal posts another 10 feet ? it was called ?the Baltimore Extension? ? and added a sixth official, who also went under the posts on field-goal attempts."
Tunney insists there was "no question" his call was correct, and, despite the kidding, has never had a problem living with it.
"One of the great things about officiating in the NFL is that over the years you become great friends with many of the players and coaches," he said.
The author of eight books, he also writes a weekly column for the Monterey Herald called "The Tunney Side of the Street."
For those of you who may still question "The Call," it will be of little consolation, but you can rest assured Jim Tunney understands your anguish ? and knows he got it right.
A Baltimore native who has covered the local and national sports scene for more than 40 years, Jim Henneman is a past president of the Baseball Writers Association of America and an activevoter for baseball?s Hall Of Fame. He also writes a weekly column for The Press Box. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.