Hugh Ray

"Just when we think we have a certain rule edited so that it sounds logical and is fair to both the offensive and defensive teams, along comes a coach with a new-fangled shift or play. Then we’ve got to change the rule in order to plug up the loop-hole.”

Hugh (Shorty) Ray was only 5-6, 136 pounds but he proved himself a giant in pro football during his tenure as National Football League’s Supervisor of Officials from 1938 to 1952. Pro football undoubtedly is a better game today, particularly for the fans, than it would have been had not Hugh (Shorty) Ray ever happened on the scene.

During this period, he not only worked tirelessly to improve the techniques of officiating but he also spent countless hours studying ways to streamline the rules, improve the tempo of play and increase safety for the players. He is said to have made over 300,000 notations as a technical observer. He visited every team annually to educate the players to the rules.

Ray has been referred to as pro football’s “unknown hero,” who helped save an often-unexciting game from extinction. At the urging of the Chicago Bears’ founder-coach George Halas, Ray brought his expertise to the NFL in 1938, but the groundwork for his unique role was laid years earlier both at the high school and college level.

Football in the 1920s had denigrated into a sluggish and sometimes brutal encounter. Injuries were widespread. Officiating was haphazard and often biased. Antiquated rules were loosely interpreted and randomly enforced. Once he joined the NFL, Shorty insisted his officials became absolute masters of the rules book. He gave them written tests and demanded that they score better than 95 percent every time.

Player safety and speed of play were always prime factors in his annual proposals. Ray made more than 300,000 stopwatch observations during his NFL tenure. He discovered that the faster a game is played, the more time it consumes. “The faster you play, the more plays you create,” he explained. “The more plays you create, the more situations you develop in which the clock can be stopped.”