James Wilson

James Wilson

  • Year Inducted : 2014
  • Sport : official

About Inductee


The date was Oct. 16, 1993. It was the third Saturday in October, the ordained day of the annual Alabama-Tennessee football war. In Birmingham at sold-out Legion Field, Alabama was trying to extend a 28-game winning streak dating back to the third game of 1991. For its part, Tennessee was hoping to snap a seven-year losing string against the Crimson Tide dating to the 1986 season. As it turned out, the ending wiped out both streaks in a kissing-your-sister sort of way. Trailing 17-9 in the frantic closing moments, Alabama drove 83 yards in 83 seconds and scored its only touchdown on Jay Barkers quarterback sneak with 21 seconds on the clock. Down 17-15, Alabama then replaced Barker with speedy receiver David Palmer, who swept right end for a 2-point conversion. Standing on the sideline at the goal line as Palmer streaked untouched into the end zone, the head linesman in his black-and-white striped shirt thrust both arms high in the air, signaling the score that tied the game, 17-17. Since college footballs overtime rule was still three years away, thats how it ended. The pro-Alabama crowd had erupted when Palmer scored, but few players on either team were celebrating as they left the field. They didnt win but we didnt either, said Barker. It feels like a loss. But to James L. Wilson, the head linesman who was the first to make the call on Palmers run, just being a part of that day remains an enduring memory. It was one of the most unusual and exciting games that I ever worked, recalled Wilson 20 years later. It was unusual in the fact that in the first half, both teams were mouthing off, big time, at each other. But when they started the second half, all you heard was hitting, not a word from either team, coaches or bench. Ive worked lots of football games, but Ill always remember that one because of the players intensity in the third and fourth quarters. That was a great, great football game. That game was another moment in time in what has been an eventful life in football for Huntsville native James Wilson, one of the first pioneers in the mid-1960s during the early years of the integration of the citys public schools. A 1967 graduate of Butler High School, he was a two-year letterman in football and track, and then became a star tight end at Eastern Kentucky University, where he was a four-year letterman. His senior year, he was voted the teams MVP and was named to the OVC All-Conference team. He went to work for Ford Motor Company shortly after graduation in 1972 and stayed with Ford, first in Louisville and Dallas and later in Memphis, for the next 34 years. Now retired and living in Germantown, Tennessee, he works for the NFL office as an Official Observer after many years as an on-the-field football official, including 13 years (1985-97) in the SEC and later in the NFL (1998-2003). Wilsons interest in officiating began when he accompanied a friend to a high school all-star game in Louisville. For some reason, he said, I started watching the officials work, and I said, I can do that. I can do that better than they can. He started officiating in 1964 and worked on the field until January of 2004. Needless to say, throughout my life and officiating career Ive been truly blessed with many wonderful and caring coaches, teachers, preachers, mentors, relatives and friends, Wilson said. Each of them had a lasting impact on my life and helped shape me into the person that I am today. My parents, the late Theodore and Altha Wilson, instilled in me the value of having a strong work ethic, and being trustworthy and reliable. They had the greatest impact on my life because they always supported me in all I sought to do. Wilson and his wife, Patricia Conley Wilson, have three children: Adriane Wilson, Shannon Wilson Rivers and Melinda Wilson.

Related Players