Vaughn, Freeman add to state's Super legacy

When Mississippian Jerry Rice crossed the goal line for one of his career-record seven Super Super Bowl touchdowns Jan. 29, 1995, back judge Jack Vaughn, a Mississippi State grad and Starkville resident was there to throw up his hands and signal the touchdown.

A Sports Illustrated photographer snapped a photo that Vaughn keeps in his home.

“It was my third and last Super Bowl,” says Vaughn, a former State baseball standout who officiated in the NFL for 24 seasons.

If anyone understands Mississippi’s influence on the Super Bowl, Vaughn does.

“Heck in Super Bowl XXV, there were five Mississippi State guys on the field,” Vaughn says. “Johnie Cooks played for the Giants. Kent Hull, Kirby Jackson and Donnie Smith played for the Bills. I thought it was the greatest Super Bowl ever played.”

So, Jack, who was the fifth Bulldog in the game?

“That would have been me,” Vaughn says with a chuckle.

The Giants won that game 20-19 when Buffalo placekicker Scott Norwood’s last-second field goal went wide to the right.

Vaughn was standing underneath the left upright but could tell the ball was wide “by at least a couple of feet.”

Vaughn also officiated Super Bowl XX, in which the Chicago Bears dismantled the New England Patriots.

“What I’ll always remember about that game is that (Mike) Ditka brought (William, the Refrigerator) Perry in the game at the end and gave him the ball for the last touchdown, instead of giving it to Walter and letting Perry block,” Vaughn says. “I still can’t believe Ditka did that.”

I can’t either. Neither could Walter, who once untied Vaughn’s shoes from underneath a pile after being tackled in Chicago.

Vaughn’s final Super Bowl was the 49ers run-away victory over the Chargers in which Rice caught 10 passes for 149 yards, despite a bad case of the flu and a separated shoulder suffered in the second quarter.

Says Vaughn, laughing, “I didn’t even know Jerry was hurt. You sure couldn’t tell it the way he played.”

Vaughn said he felt little added pressure in his three Super Bowls and “none after the first few minutes of the first one.”

“It would be silly to say it’s just another game because it’s not,” Vaughn says. “But once it gets started, you’re so focused on your duties and doing your job that everything else — the crowd, the hoopla — just goes away. You just do your job.”

Vaughn serves these days as a Conference USA replay official, but occasionally has scouted college officials for the NFL.

One back judge he recommended highly was former Mississippi State and NFL safety Steve Freeman, who now lives in Oxford and who will be the back judge at Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“Steve’s a great football official,” Vaughn says. “He was back when he was in the SEC and he is now. You don’t get to the Super Bowl unless you are one of the best. That’s how you get there. They grade all the officials and take only the best.”

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You had to see Jerry Rice to believe him.

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