Cahn, Norman "Bobie" : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Cahn, Norman "Bobie"

Cahn played under the legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago, then served as an NFL official from 1922-1945, becoming one of the league's most famous personalities. In 1938, he wrote in Esquire Magazine: "...after graduating (in 1919)...I started handling high school games and then drifted into semi-pro and sandlot games and then into big-time football -- the National Football League...shortly after I had started refereeing in professional football, the Old Man (Stagg) called me aside...he still is very much opposed to the professional phase of football. 'Bobie,' he said. 'I wish you would quit your officiating...your association with the professionals is against all my teachings as well as against all traditions of amateurism'...I gave the Old Man's words considerable thought but I liked the professional side of football and for a little guy (5'1 1/2", 130 pounds) it seemed to be the only angle I could tie up with the, much against Mr. Stagg's wishes, I stayed with the game."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. November 27, 1892 - d. January 1965

Career Highlights:
Before beginning his football career at the University of Illinois in 1914 (where the Illini won the National Championship), Cahn was a terrific athlete and a high school sprinter in the state of Illinois. At the 1910 Illinois State Track and Field Meet, he finished in third place in the 50-yard dash while attending Phillips High School. In 1915, Cahn transferred to the University of Chicago and played for Amos Alonzo Stagg for two seasons. He spent two years with the British Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I, then returned to graduate from Chicago in 1919.

In 1922, Cahn began officiating games in the NFL and became one of the game's best referees. In The Story of Pro Football, Howard Roberts wrote that Cahn, "...was one of the ablest of a group of colorful, tolerant, capable officials who steered pro football through its early turbulent days. In his white knickers and black stockings Bobie looked like a little boy who had wandered by mistake onto the field with the grown men. But coupled with the physique of a mouse, he had the courage of a lion. He'd dive headlong into the pileups of struggling giants to retrieve the ball, and he was always the big boss on the field. Also, like most of his contemporary whistle-tooters, he had a sense of humor that saw him through some rough situations."

Cahn's sense of humor came in handy when he was officiating Chicago Bears games. His feud with Bears owner/coach George Halas was legendary. In one game, while marking off a 15-yard penalty against the Bears, Halas shouted, "Cahn, you stink!" Cahn added another 15-yard penalty and turned to ask Halas, "How do I smell from here?"

Bobie officiated what is considered by some to be the most important professional football game in history. On Thanksgiving Day 1925, the great Red Grange turned pro and professional football moved from the back pages of the sports section to the front. It was also the first pro football sell-out; there were 16,000 people in attendance at Wrigley Field, then called Cubs' Park). Cahn also officiated the first NFL championship game in 1933, and every succeeding one through 1938.

In 1932, Bobie officiated a championship game between the Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans (with lineman Bodie Bodenger), although the game was just called a playoff -- the first official NFL Championship Game would take place the following year. The 1932 game occurred because the Bears and Spartans finished tied in the standings. Interestingly, the game was played indoors because of a paralyzing blizzard in Chicago. Rather than postpone the match for a week and run into Christmas, thus hurting gate recepits, Halas decided to have the game played inside. Because of the limited space, Bobie and the other officials had to remember some strange rule changes. No field goals were allowed, kickoffs were initiated from the kicking team's 10-yard line, punts that bounced around in the rafters (it happened twice) were considered touchbacks, and each time a team crossed midfield, it was penalized 20 yards, in effect making the field 100 yards long. And, for the first time, inbounds lines (hashmarks) were drawn 10 yards from each sideline. Whenever the ball was carried out of bounds, it was returned to the nearest hashmark, rather than being placed where it went out (right next to the hockey boards). The NFL permanently adopted hashmarks the following year.

Denver, Colorado

Career Dates:
Cahn played halfback on the freshman football team at the University of Illinois in 1914. He then transferred to the University of Chicago, playing there from 1915-1916.

Physical description:
5'1 1/2", 130 pounds

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)