For nearly three decades. Rod Bly was a fixture at Friday night football games around Snohomish County.
And if he did his job right, as he usually did, no one knew he was there.
Bly, who died Sunday at age 77, was one of the most esteemed high school referees in the area. He officiated hundreds of games, interacted with thousands of players and coaches, and won countless admirers along the way, even though he still retained a large bit of anonymity.
But among his officiating peers, he was admired for his talent, his dedication, his integrity and his abiding love of the game.
“Officiating meant so much to him because he wanted to see that the game was played correctly,” said Jim Carter of Mukilteo, who was involved in officiating with Bly for nearly four decades. “He just extremely fair, and he made sure that everybody had an equal shot and that they played the game within the rules.”
“If you bring up football officiating in Snohomish County, Rod’s name is probably the first name you’d come to,” said Al Furiak of Everett, another longtime officiating colleague. “He’d be a football legend, and as an official he was as big as Dick Armstrong or Terry Ennis (two of the state’s winningest coaches, also from Snohomish County).”
Bly was a member of the Snohomish County Football Officials Association (SCFOA) from 1972 until his retirement in 1997, though he stayed on for another three years as the association’s assigning secretary. He was an SCFOA board member for 17 years and had 10 assignments in either a state championship or semifinal game.
“He just loved to (officiate),” said his wife Noreen Bly. “He was really interested in football and the kids. And he enjoyed the other officials, too. They had great times.”
Bly also received the National Federation of High School Sports Distinguished Service Award at a ceremony in Kansas City in 1993, and was a charter member of the Snohomish County Football Officials Hall of Fame.
In addition, Bly helped bring the annual East-West All-Star high school football game to Everett.
His retirement from officiating at age 62 was due to double knee replacement surgery, which made him physically unable to continue.
“His knees were giving out,” Noreen Bly said. “He officiated a long time when he shouldn’t have. … It became very hard for him and he finally couldn’t do it anymore.”
“He told me that retiring was one of the most painful things he ever had to do,” Carter said. ” He didn’t want to. … But (the knee pain) was horribly painful for him in the last few years.”
Bly was born in Bemidji, Minn., but moved to Everett with his family as a young boy. He later served in the Marines for four years, reaching the rank of sergeant, and was on his way to serve in the Korean War when an armistice ended the conflict in 1953.
Bly, who had a career in the car business, had a family of five children. Son Tom also served as a football official for several years, and was on the field for his father’s final game.
“Rod just loved football,” Furiak said. “I think it meant a lot to him that he could stay involved with it. He enjoyed working with kids and he wanted to make the sport better.”
“He ruled firmly, but he was also very friendly out there,” Carter said. “He was always willing to explain something to a kid or maybe talk him out of doing something so he wouldn’t be penalized. He was well respected by his fellow officials, but also extremely well respected by the local coaching fraternity.”
He was, Carter added, “just a phenomenal individual.”
A service for Bly will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church, 2619 Cedar Street, Everett.