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Cleveland: Former NFL Ref Vaughn Crystal Clear Game Caller

Before Jack Vaughn officiated in three Super Bowls as one of the NFL’s top-rated field judges, he was a Mississippi State shortstop looking for a way to make spending money in the autumn.
Jack Cristil, the new State broadcaster, needed a spotter, somebody to help him give credit to the correct players for making tackles or especially good blocks. Jack hired Jack.
This was 1955 and the legendary Dudy Noble paid Cristil all of $25 per game to do the Bulldog football broadcasts. “Money,” said Vaughn, “was tight back then.”
Cristil, however, was not.
“Jack always gave me $15 for spotting the games,” Vaughn said. “So, in actuality, I made more money than he did. He made 25, paid me 15 and that left him with 10.”
Said Vaughn, “You think I didn’t appreciate Jack Cristil?”
The feeling surely was mutual. Jack Vaughn died at home in Starkville last week of an apparent heart attack, roughly three months after his friend, the inimitable Cristil, passed away.
Vaughn, a native of Ponchatoula, Louisiana, was recruited to State to play quarterback by the famed Darrell Royal in 1954. When Royal left for Washington the following year, Vaughn decided to quit football.
But Vaughn still loved the sport and kept his hand in football, first as Cristil’s spotter, then as a high school football official. He moved on to officiate in the SEC and then in the NFL. He was one of the league’s best, chosen to officiate several playoff games, two Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls.
Vaughn said he was always amazed at the impact Mississippians made in football at its highest level.
When Jerry Rice crossed the goal line in Miami for his record-breaking seventh Super Bowl touchdown, he tossed the ball to Vaughn, just as a Sports Illustrated photographer snapped his camera giving Oktibbeha County double exposure on SI’s cover.
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 also much admired Columbia’s Walter Payton, not only for his toughness and grit, but for his fun-loving manner.
“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 un-piled, there was Walter down at the bottom, looking up at me and just grinning.”
Vaughn officiated Super Bowl XX in New Orleans when Payton and the Chicago Bears dismantled New England. That’s when Mike Ditka called William “The Refrigerator” Perry’s number for the final touchdown instead of Payton’s.
“I still can’t believe Ditka did that,” Vaughn said.
Neither could I.
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, was 78 at the time of his death.

Rick Cleveland 2007.jpgFollow Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com), executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Twitter @RickCleveland.

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