Officiating is a longtime thing with Lou

He has been in the National Football League 32 years, has been in more games than anyone else now active, in playoff games covering 20 years, and in three Super Bowls.

Despite all that, he is a virtual unknown to pro football fans.

Difficult to match, this record belongs not to a player, but to one of those men in striped shirts often referred to as ''zebras'' - Lou Palazzi, dean of the NFL field officials.

When the NFL kicked off its 1981 preseason, Palazzi pulled on his striped shirt for the 30th consecutive season of officiating, taking on the difficult chores of enforcing a host of intricate rules to help keep the popular professional game running smoothly.

Football is a game Palazzi became involved in some 40 years ago.

Center and captain of the 1942 Penn State University squad, Palazzi next spent three years in the Air Force before joining the New York Giants for the 1946 and 1947 seasons as a rather small 6-foot, 195-pound lineman.

He quit the team after his second season because of a pay squabble, however, and spent the next few years as a high school teacher and assistant coach, scout for colleges, and a scholastic sports official.

It was during the latter duty that Palazzi, at age 29, thought of becoming a professional football official.

In 1951, he contacted the Giants management, which put him in touch with the lateuflogo18Change of paceBert Bell, then NFL commissioner. Bell hired him as a field judge.

He spent the next two seasons as a field judge, explaining that in those days , new officials were indoctrinated by using them as head linesmen or field judges.

Palazzi also remembers Bell telling him that officials were assigned to the jobs where they could function best.

''He reminded me that I was an old lineman and that I should know all the tricks of the lineman,'' Palazzi said, ''and that because of this I should make a good umpire. That's how I became an umpire.''

Although the head linesman and field judge jobs are rather specialized today, Palazzi prefers umpire duty to the two other posts he has filled, having been an umpire for all but those first three years as an official.

''Being a former linebacker, I was always in the middle of things,'' the Dunmore, Pa., resident explained, ''and, as an umpire I'm still there. All the action is there.''

Action is what Palazzi has had plenty of, for he can determine only three men who have been in the NFL longer than himself. In addition to Bell, they are George Halas, 89-year-old owner of the Chicago Bears, who remains active, and the late Dan Tehan, of Cincinnati, who spent 33 years as an official and league observer. Stanley Javie, a field judge, retired in January after 30 years as an NFL official.

Palazzi says he has seen many changes in the league during his 30 years of officiating.

''The biggest change has been in the size of the players coming in as rookies. They are bigger and faster,'' he said. ''The game itself also has had changes, not only in the rules but in the way it has been opened up offensively.''

He works some 20 games a year, including exhibitions, but this could be Palazzi's last season as an official, for at age 60 he may retire at the end of the current campaign. Off the field, he's in the nursery business.

He has worked many big games during his career, including Super Bowls IV, VII , and XI, and numerous playoff contests.

He selects one over all the others, however.

Like many other persons, Palazzi rates the 1958 sudden-death championship game between the Giants and Baltimore Colts as the greatest game ever played and as his greatest thrill as an official.

It's the type of action Lou Palazzi will miss most when the clock does run out on his long NFL career.

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