By Judy Hildner, The Pueblo Chieftain & Irv Moss, The Denver Post
The image of an Irishman with crisp, white hair and a passion for life comes to mind when remembering Pat Haggerty.
Described at his death in 1994 as an athlete, coach, official and a friend of whomever he met, Haggerty made his presence felt in North Denver and throughout the big cities of the National Football League.
Although he traveled widely in his officiating career, Haggerty always returned to his home in Denver. He grew up just a few blocks north of the old Mile High Stadium and although he never officiated a Denver Broncos game, he gained national recognition in his 28 years of officiating.
Art McNally, supervisor of officials in the NFL at the time of Haggerty’s death, said the Denver man rose to the top of his profession. He was selected as referee for three Super Bowls – the pinnacle for any football official.
“Our officials work Super Bowls on a given year when they’re ranked No. 1,” McNally said at the time. “It’s never a case of being anyone’s turn. When a referee gets three games, it’s highly unusual and it’s a testimony to Pat’s ability. Pat worked the game from his heart, totally wrapped up in what he did, and totally respected by all the clubs.” Haggerty has been nominated for the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
A post-World War II graduate of Denver North High School, Haggerty played basketball and baseball at the University of Northern Colorado. He eventually returned at the Denver Public School District as a teacher and coach at Abraham Lincoln High School.
Before starting his teaching career, however, Haggerty played baseball in the Detroit Tigers organization, including one year with the Denver Bears in 1953. But it became apparent that a pro baseball career was not in the cards for Haggerty and he became a teacher at Valverde Elementary School in Denver.
He joined the coaching staff at Lincoln when that school opened in 1960. His Lancer baseball teams had a losing season and, in 1970, Haggerty was the head coach for the winning Denver team in The Denver Post’s Metropolitan High School All-Star Game.
Ben Dreith, another longtime NFL official, was a classmate with Haggerty at Denver North and joined the Lincoln staff in 1961.
Haggerty also coached summer baseball with the Old Timers and American Legion programs. Ho officiated football and basketball in the Big 8 and Western Athletic Conferences as well as the NFL. After retiring as an active pro referee, he continued to work for the NFL, monitoring how games were called and evaluating college referees as potential pro officials.
Even when he became seriously ill with the cancer that eventually killed him, Haggerty screened officials at Denver Broncos games for the NFL until three weeks prior to his death.
Pat worked the game from his heart, totally wrapped up in what he did, and totally respected by all the clubs.