RIP: Jack Vaughn, 3-time Super Bowl official
Jack Vaughn loved to tell the story about when he was officiating Super Bowl XXV at Tampa in 1991.
“There were five Mississippi State Bulldogs on the field that day,” Vaughn once told me. “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.”
It might have been. But that’s only four Bulldogs, Jack, I said. Who was the fifth?
“That would have been me,” Jack said, chuckling.
Vaughn, a delightful man and a fine golfer who always had a smile and a story, died Friday at his home in Starkville. He was 78.
New York won Super Bowl XXV 20-19 when Scott Norwood’s last-second field goal sailed wide to the right. Vaughn was standing under the left upright, but he could tell.
“Missed by a foot,” he said.
That was the first of three Super Bowls Vaughn officiated. Naturally, he was proud of that accomplishment. The NFL chooses its most highly rated officials to call the sport’s biggest game.
A native of Ponchatoula, La., Vaughn was recruited by Darrell Royal to Mississippi State in 1954 to play football. When Royal left for the University of Washington in 1955, Vaughn gave up football but continued to play baseball for the Diamond Dogs as a slick-fielding shortstop.
After quitting football, Vaughn spotted for Jack Cristil’s radio broadcasts for the next three years. That is, he would point out to Cristil on a chart who was making the tackles or the key blocks. Those were the second, third and fourth years the beloved Cristil did State radio.
Said Vaughn in an interview earlier this year, “Not many people know this but Jack took that job for $25 a game. That’s what Dudy Noble paid him. Can you believe that? Twenty-five dollars a game. Money was tight back then.”
But Jack Cristil was not.
“Jack always gave me $15 for spotting the games for him,” Vaughn said. “So, in actuality, I made more money than he did. He made 25, paid me 15 and that left him with 10.”
Vaughn later officiated in the SEC before moving to the NFL. Vaughn said he was always amazed at how many of the game’s greatest stars had Mississippi ties.
When Mississippian Jerry Rice crossed the goal line for one of his career-record seven Super Super Bowl touchdowns Jan. 29, 1995, at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Vaughn was there to throw up his hands and signal the touchdown.
A Sports Illustrated photographer snapped a photo that Vaughn kept in his home.
“It was my third and last Super Bowl,” said Vaughn who officiated in the NFL for 24 seasons.
If anyone understands Mississippi’s influence on the Super Bowl, Vaughn does.
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.”
Vaughn’s final Super Bowl was the 49ers’ run-away 1995 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.
Said 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 said. “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 also officiated two Pro Bowls and numerous playoffs games. Officials can’t have favorites, but that didn’t mean Vaughn couldn’t appreciate Mississippians such as Payton.
“I never saw anybody have more fun playing football than Walter Payton,” Vaughn once said. “That guy loved to play. I remember one time when I had one of his games and he got tackled and I ran up to the pile. A hand reached out from under the pile and untied my shoes. When they finally unpiled, there was Walter down at the bottom, looking up at me and just grinning.”
Services will be St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville. Visitation is at 10 a.m. With the service to follow at 11. Welch Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.