Rocky Goode was a pioneer

Marvin WestWest Knoxville, westwords

Thanks for the memories.

Old Vol footballer Bert Ackermann, in a very personal approach to Thanksgiving, was recalling good times with his Southeastern Conference officiating buddy, the late Rocky Goode.

Rocky Goode

“He was a pioneer. Rocky helped initiate instant replay. After his deteriorating knee condition forced him to retire from the field, he served as an SEC replay official.”

Ackermann said the booth job was difficult in the beginning.

“Whether to overturn the call of one of your friends was an emotional decision. Rocky did it because he was true to the game.”

Goode was also in the forefront of TV commentary about officiating. He was first to unravel the tangles of Vern Lundquist and Gary Danielson on CBS presentations of the SEC game of the week.

“Rocky gave the audience real-time explanations and evaluations of officiating calls,” said Ackermann.

Goode answered questions about SEC officiating on Knoxville call-in radio, Sports Talk with Jimmy Hyams and John Wilkerson. That was another pioneer adventure. There was no way to know what listeners might ask.’

Goode had an interesting philosophy.

“The game is played by humans, coached by humans and officiated by humans. Players will make mistakes and coaches will make mistakes. Do we hold officials to higher standards?”

Ackermann was an honorary pallbearer earlier this week at memorial services for Goode. There was plenty of time to think about times together and how that fellowship fits into this Thanksgiving.

Goode died on Nov. 18 from cruel complications of frontotemporal degeneration. He was 66.

Long ago, Rocky was one of the best-ever athletes at Bearden High, football player of the year in Tennessee, an all-American. He earned a scholarship to UT but not much happened there. Injuries got in the way.

Goode started officiating at the high-school level because he needed the money. He worked his way up to the big time because he truly loved the game.

Ackermann has great background for evaluation and rare insight into how good was Goode.

Bert, center in 1962-64 under three head coaches, Bowden Wyatt, Jim McDonald and Doug Dickey, was an academic star at the University of Tennessee. He earned a doctorate in engineering and remains a very successful business owner who never lost his appreciation for football.

In a striped shirt, with a whistle in hand and a yellow flag in his pocket, he officiated for 32 years – many big games almost everywhere except where Tennessee was playing. The SEC does not assign officials where they would have logical connections. It’s not a question of objectivity. It’s a matter of perception.

Ackermann helped Goode become a movie star – well, not exactly.

Barry Rice, senior director of UT broadcasting, had this far-out idea for a video documentary from behind the scenes of SEC football officiating in the 2000 season – based on linesman Ackermann’s last year in an outstanding career. Goode was the young referee for the crew.

Ackermann didn’t like the concept. He is a private person. He was skeptical from the beginning.

“Nervous is a better word. I didn’t like the feel of cameras and microphones all around.”

Roy Kramer, then SEC commissioner, loved the Rice plan. He thought the world needed to know more about all that went into football officiating.

After polite arm-twisting, Ackermann gave a tentative OK. He negotiated content oversight.

“Rocky stole the show with his candor and poise.”

There were no major controversies but there was plenty of excitement – three overtime games and another decided by a last-play field goal.

The documentary “Stripes” won a Grammy.

Ackermann has a full supply of Goode stories. For years there was an unofficial officiating luncheon each week at Wright’s Cafeteria – Eddy Powers, Joe Dawson, Gerald Hodges, Ackermann and Goode.

One of the treasures came from an Alabama-Ole Miss game in Oxford, Goode’s first televised game as a referee. Bobby Gaston, SEC director of officials, was an observer. Commissioner Kramer was in the press box.

One of Rocky’s partners was very helpful.

“You better not mess up.”

Everything before the game was magnified for Goode. He remembered walking around the field and carefully inspecting all the markings. As always, everything was precisely in place. Rocky had to find something else to do. He remembered jitters being worse than ever.

He remembered the National Anthem, bowing his head and saying a prayer. He was greatly relieved that the uncomfortable butterflies suddenly flew away.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments and questions. His address is [email protected].

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