Jerry Seeman and his sons watched a lot of football when he was raising a family. But as his oldest son Mike put it, his dad had a unique perspective: “He had one eye on the game, one eye on the officials.”
Indeed, Seeman refereed National Football League games for 16 years before becoming the NFL’s senior director of officiating in 1991, a position he held for a decade. “He was able to take up a profession that was his hobby,” Mike Seeman said. “It was his passion.”
Seeman, a veteran educator, died Nov. 24 at his home in Blaine after a 3 1/2 year battle with cancer. He was 77.
Seeman’s interest in sports started early. He was a standout in football, basketball and baseball at Plainview High School in southeastern Minnesota. He also played football and basketball at Winona State University, graduating in 1957 with a mathematics degree.
While working as a teacher, Seeman began officiating high school football in 1963. He coached basketball until 1970, when he donned a ref’s whistle for that sport, too.
Seeman climbed the officiating ladder from small college football to the Big 10, where he landed a job in 1975. Three years later the NFL came calling. He would officiate 15 postseason games, including Super Bowls in 1989 and 1991.
Seeman’s math training came in handy as referee, Mike Seeman said “He had a brilliant mathematical mind. He was known as being the walking rule book.”
Another son, Jeff Seeman, who himself is an NFL referee, said his dad actually enjoyed the arcana of rules. “That’s the only part of this job that to me is work,” Jeff Seeman said about studying the rule book. “But he loved it.”
Jerry Seeman was also long the lead basketball rules clinician for the Minnesota State High School League.
His rules expertise helped him become the NFL’s senior director of officiating, and during his tenure Seeman was credited with implementing the league’s modern instant replay system. The first incarnation of instant replay in the 1980s failed after too many interruptions “killed the flow of play,” said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s current head of officiating.
Seeman put together a set of rules in the later 1990s that limited reviewable plays — solving the problem. Even after Seeman retired as officiating director he worked as an NFL observer. “He wrote rules exams up until last year, which is an exhaustive process,” Blandino said. “It was amazing right up until the very end how much he was involved.”
The officiating director’s post was a full-time job that necessitated that he and wife Marilyn — they’d met in 1957 — move from Minnesota to New York, the football league’s home base. But before that, like most NFL football officials, Jerry Seeman worked elsewhere in the offseason.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he was finance and personnel director for Fridley public schools. And he continued refereeing high school and small college basketball games even while working NFL games. Seeman was also very active in Rotary and served as a board member of United Mercy Hospitals Foundation.
In addition to his wife and sons Mike and Jeff, Seeman is survived by son Jon; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.