Bob Beeks, who died last week at age 85, was a decorated St. Louis police officer. When he took off his gun and badge, he slipped on knickers and a striped shirt and moonlighted on weekends at National Football League games.|
Mr. Beeks was a line judge. In 1968, he became only the second African-American hired as an NFL official. He held that job for 22 years.
He was so good that he was chosen to officiate in five Super Bowl games. The league says his Super Bowl record is matched by only four other NFL officials in the history of the league, now in its 93rd year.
"He had a phenomenal record," Art McNally, Mr. Beeks' former boss and the NFL's longtime supervisor of officiating, said Thursday.
Robert Stanley Beeks Sr. of University City died on his birthday, Dec. 26, 2012, at St. Mary's Health Center in Richmond Heights. He suffered an apparent heart attack, his family said.
His father delivered auto parts. Bob was the third of five children and a standout athlete at Vashon High School, class of 1946, earning letters in basketball, baseball and football.
"I thought I was an athlete," Mr. Beeks told the Post-Dispatch in 1994. "It was wishful thinking."
He earned a scholarship to what is now Lincoln University in Jefferson City. There, he fell in love with another student, Gladys Simmons from Chicago. They married in 1947.
Mr. Beeks dropped out of college for a paying job with the Harlem Broadway Clowns of Chicago, an African-American traveling basketball team. He and his family returned to St. Louis, where he found work at the St. Louis Recreation Division.
In 1955, he was accepted at the Metropolitan Police Academy and became a St. Louis Police officer. He was a beat officer in north St. Louis, worked as a detective and a training officer and was promoted to sergeant. He was awarded three Chief's Letters of Commendation for outstanding police work.
He started coaching Little League teams and went on to referee in high school and then college games. In 1968, the NFL recruited him. (The year before, the league had hired Burl Toler in San Francisco as its first African-American official.)
As the line judge, Mr. Beeks was one of seven officials on the football field (six at the time he started in pro ball.) The job of the line judge and the head linesman on the opposite side of the field is to determine if any player violates the rules at the scrimmage line.
Only one of the seven officials is the referee - the one wearing the white cap.
Mr. Beeks wore a uniform bearing the No. 59 during his entire career.
Competition for officiating jobs is fierce. The league says it takes 10 to 20 years for an applicant to work his way up from junior high to high school and then college officiating before he is ready to even be considered by the NFL. (The league says it has no female officials.)
McNally says he doesn't think Mr. Beeks' day job as a police officer is what made him a great NFL official. The league hires people from all kinds of backgrounds, including some lawyers and educators, he adds.
What officials have in common is that they live to enforce the rules of the game, McNally said. The job is intense and officials are judged at every step of the way by the accuracy of their calls. An official who makes even a few mistakes won't last long.
"There is an awful lot of pressure and it takes a certain kind of person to handle it," said Tim Millis, executive director of the National Football League Referees Association. "The teams win ball games and we (the officials) lose them - the losers blame us. We accept that fact."
Each NFL official receives a numerical score for accuracy, which is compared with those of others holding the same position. Mr. Beeks was one of about 15 line judges. Five times he received the highest yearly score of any line judge: in 1979, 1981, 1983, 1986 and 1988.
Those were the years he officiated at Super Bowls.
"Bob rarely, rarely ever made a mistake," McNally said. "He had such a feel for the game."
In his later years at the Police Department, Mr. Beeks worked Monday through Friday, allowing him to keep his NFL job.
Mr. Beeks retired from the department in 1986 after 30 years. He retired from the NFL in 1990. In retirement, he swam regularly to stay in shape.
Visitation was 4-7 p.m. Friday at Washington Metropolitan Church, 613 Garrison Avenue, and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, followed by the funeral service at noon. The body will be cremated.
Survivors include two daughters, Irene Stamps of St. Louis and Stanli Johnson of University City; four sons, Joshua Beeks, Robert Beeks Jr. and Mark Beeks of St. Louis, and Danny Coates of DeSoto, Texas; and two brothers, Earl Beeks of University City and George Beeks of St. Louis; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Jan. 4, 2013