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Jack Reader; was official in first Super Bowl

Jack Reader played on the football team for the College of the Holy Cross in the late 1940s. Jack Reader played on the football team for the College of the Holy Cross in the late 1940s.
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / November 19, 2008
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After graduation from the College of the Holy Cross in 1950, football star Jack Reader contemplated staying in the game.

"My mother suggested that he become an official," recalled Mr. Reader's son, Jack of Hingham. "He agreed, and it was the beginning of a 56-year career filled with great memories."

A 1996 inductee to the Central Catholic High of Lawrence Hall of Fame, Mr. Reader was part of some of the most historic moments of the American and National Football Leagues in the past half century.

Mr. Reader, 82, who died of cancer on Nov. 10 at Harbor House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hingham, was back judge at Super Bowls I (1967) and III (1969). He also officiated at the first AFL regular season game, a 13-10 Patriots loss to the Denver Broncos at Nickerson Field in 1960.

Mr. Reader's officiating career also landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated with his arms raised signaling a New York Jets touchdown by fullback Matt Snell during their 16-7 upset win over the NFL champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

"Jack was a great official who also worked the AFL championship game and AFL All-Star game," recalled Art McNally, former NFL director of officials. "After the merger of the AFL and NFL officiating staffs, he became a referee, running his own crew. His last year on the field was 1974, because we needed an assistant supervisor. Jack later became a supervisor. Because he was a people person, knew the game so well, and had such a great sense of humor, he was beloved by many."

Mr. Reader "had a smile that warmed a room," said Jim Heffernan, former NFL media relations director. "He brought joy to the NFL office and integrity to the officiating department."

Mr. Reader, who also helped in the development of instant replay and in ensuring the diversity of NFL officials, retired as a full-time officiating supervisor with the NFL eight years ago, but stayed active as a part-time observer for six more years.

"We struck up a friendship years ago that clicked, and we'd stop and talk before every home game," said Dante Scarnecchia, assistant head coach and offensive line coach of the New England Patriots. "He'd always give you an honest response to a question about officiating, and you knew he'd always be fair in his judgments. He was a special person."

Born in Lawrence, John Kenneth Reader grew up in Methuen and was a rare four-sport letterman at Central Catholic, competing in both basketball and ice hockey in the winter.

Mr. Reader, a 1943 graduate, handled all the kicking duties for the football team and excelled in clutch, short yardage situations as a fullback. He helped the football team post a 7-1 record his junior year. On the baseball field, he led the team in extra base hits for three seasons.

Walter "Skeets" Scanlon - a three-year high school teammate of Mr. Reader's in football, hockey, and baseball and a lifelong friend - said that "Jack was the best high school kicker I ever saw. We played together . . . on a city summer league baseball team. After the games, we'd practice our football plays while wearing our baseball uniforms."

After high school graduation, Mr. Reader enlisted in the US Army Air Force and was a B-17 tail gunner on 27 missions in Europe with the Eighth Air Force's 96th Heavy Bombardment Group. A staff sergeant, he was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.

After returning from one mission, Mr. Reader wondered why hundreds of people were staring at his plane. "It turned out that the bomber had so many bullet holes in it," said his son, "that you could see through it. There was also a gaping hole just above the tail gun; and that's when my dad took his first drink at age 19."

At Holy Cross in Worcester, Mr. Reader punted 52 times his senior season in 1949 and also averaged more than three yards per carry as a fullback with one touchdown. Mr. Reader liked to recall that one of his football opponents was a Brown University back named Joe Paterno, now in his 43rd season as head coach at Penn State.

"Jack was such a great punter, I could buff my fingernails before the ball came down," recalled the 1949 Holy Cross football captain, Tom Kelleher, who was Mr. Reader's friend for 62 years and who also officiated in the NFL.

Kelleher added that as an officials' supervisor, "Jack could evaluate us better than anyone I knew."

A resident of Oxford and Auburn after college graduation, Mr. Reader moved to Edison, N.J., in 1961 and worked as a bank auto financing officer, in addition to his officiating duties. He returned to Massachusetts in 1997 and resided until shortly before his death at the Kings Way Community in Yarmouthport. His condo was adjacent to the 11th green at The Club at Yarmouthport, which worked out well because he was an avid golfer with a nice putting touch.

Mr. Reader, an only child whose wife of 45 years, Anna (Moriarty), died in 1994, also leaves another son, Paul, of Chatham, N.J.; a daughter, Patricia Merlin of Duxbury; and six grandchildren. Services have been held.

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