Obituary: Thomas Thamert / His no-call at football game was national news

Aug. 30, 1935 - Jan. 8, 2013

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In more than 40 years as a referee for both the WPIAL and college football, Tom Thamert made plenty of calls. But his most memorable moment as an official came after a call he didn't make.

Mr. Thamert garnered national attention in 1992 when he was serving as the referee for a game between Notre Dame and BYU. Late in the game, he failed to call a penalty on BYU for what Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz perceived to be a blatant headlock.

Mr. Holtz called Mr. Thamert over to the sideline and put his arms around his head, in a joking manner.

"I just put him in a headlock and I said, 'Is this a penalty? Because if it isn't I need to teach that technique to block linebackers because it's a heck of a lot better than what I'm trying to do,' " Mr. Holtz said.

The two laughed off the incident after the fact, and it was even nominated for an ESPY award that year. Mr. Thamert and Mr. Holtz lost out to a rabbit that ran across the football field.

"Tom always said he would've won but he was beaten out by a hare," said Ed Fedorchak, one of Mr. Thamert's friends from Mount Washington.

Mr. Thamert, of Mount Washington, died Tuesday at the age of 77.

Mr. Thamert got his start as an official doing youth football in Mount Washington. He later worked for the WPIAL and, eventually, many of the major eastern college football games.

Friends and colleagues said he was just as fair and balanced in his officiating as he was with his personal relationships.

"He was just a wonderful human being," Mr. Holtz said. "I enjoyed him as an official because I trusted him completely. He had a great manner with people, very honest, above board."

Born in Mankato, Minn., Mr. Thamert served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. While Mr. Thamert was on leave, a friend brought him to Pittsburgh, where he met Judy Campbell. The two married, and Mr. Thamert settled in Mount Washington.

When he wasn't officiating, Mr. Thamert was a lobbyist for Equitable Resources. He enjoyed golfing and was a member of a golfing league in Mount Washington since the 1960s.

"Until the day he died, you could not keep up with Tommy," Mr. Fedorchak said.

Mr. Thamert and Mr. Holtz would golf together occasionally for charity. Years later, they would joke about the incident on the sideline at Notre Dame Stadium in 1992.

"We'd be golfing together and he had a putt to win the hole. I'd say, 'You think that last headlock was for illustration, this one's going to be for real,' " Mr. Holtz said.

Mr. Thamert is survived by his wife and four children.

Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in St. Mary of the Mount Church, Mount Washington, followed by military honors by VFW Post 5111.

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Sam Werner: or on Twitter @SWernerPG.


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