Bethel adjunct professor doubles as member of NFL officiating crew.
Jason Stormer | Sports Editor
Jim Pearson deals with a lot of yardage. During the week, he helps students land their drives in the middle of the fairway at more than 200 yards. On the weekends, he helps NFL referees decide whether the football crossed into the end zone or should be placed at the one-yard line.
Pearson (71) has been a physical health and wellness adjunct professor at Bethel University. On Sundays, he is part of an NFL officiating team as a replay assistant, traveling across the country with the rest of his crew.
Pearson’s responsibility is to review every play of the game and notify the head referee of a potential missed call. The replay assistant sits in the replay booth in the press box with a video technician and communicator. The technician feeds camera signals to the assistant’s screen, while the communicator watches the action on the field to inform the replay assistant when play has continued. When Pearson sees that the officials on the field have made an incorrect call inside of the two-minute warning, he notifies the head referee. He then sends the video to the head referee to make the final call on the play.
Since graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Minnesota in 1965, Pearson immediately knew that officiating was a way to keep him invested in the game he loves. He played four years at Murray High School, now Murray Junior High School, in St. Paul.
“This was one way I could keep involved in sports,” Pearson said.
Pearson’s officiating career began with junior varsity and 10th grade football games throughout the Twin Cities in 1965. Shortly thereafter, he was selected to be on a high school football crew, a group with which he would spend the next 25 years. Then he began officiating at the college level for the MIAC and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. In 1994, he was asked to go to Division II’s now defunct North Central Conference (NCC), but was becoming physically limited because of bad knee.
While with the NCC in 1999, he was was approached by an old colleague and friend, Jerry Seeman. Seeman was the NFL Senior Director of Officiating and a former referee. Now deceased, he and Pearson officiated MIAC basketball games together before Seeman moved on to the Big Ten and then the NFL. The Plainview, Minn. native offered Pearson a job as a replay assistant to allow him to continue his career while accommodating his physical limitations.
The original agreement was for Pearson to officiate for one year, but he’s in his 16th season as a replay assistant, officiating regular and postseason NFL games. He even got a chance to work on the crew for Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
“That’s the ultimate [goal], just to work in NFL playoff games, I never thought I would get that far,” Pearson said. With only 122 officials employed by the NFL at a time, Pearson said there is a lot of competition across the country to get to the top. The league has referee scouts attending games and developmental camps where aspiring officials can learn the ropes. Pearson and his crew are graded every game, meaning there’s no guarantee that he or another member will make it to see another week.
But the NFL, like any businesses, requires employees to pay their dues and Pearson credits his success largely to his perseverance. He may not be on the field anymore, and says he got “a little lucky” by having acquaintances help him reach this point, but he still knows what it takes be a great referee at the highest level.
“You’ve got to be diligent, learn the rules, be a good people-person, be in good shape…and know the right people,” Pearson said.