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Classic Covers: Saluting the Referees

Published: September 28, 2012

Dog on the Field

Dog on the Field by Lonie Bee from October 18, 1941


Dog on the Field
by Lonie Bee
from October 18, 1941

One of the indignities of the job. Rover is going for a touchdown and ignoring the ref’s whistle. This 1941 cover is by artist Lonie Bee, who, although little known today, illustrated for magazines like Collier’s, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day in the ’40s.


Ref Out Cold

Ref Out Cold by Steven Dohanos from Novemeber 25, 1950


Ref Out Cold
by Stevan Dohanos
from November 25, 1950

Stevan Dohanos, one of the best and most prolific of the Post cover artists, witnessed such a catastrophe at a Yale-Dartmouth game in 1949. Darned if the callous son of a gun didn’t immediately think, “ah, this would be a great Post cover!” But despite being steamrollered by a young Goliath, the real referee survived just fine. It’s a rough game.


Third Down, Goal to Go

Third Down, Goal to Go by Thornton Utz October 15, 1949


Third Down, Goal to Go
by Thornton Utz
October 15, 1949

This bird’s-eye (blimp’s eye?) view shows how rough situations, like the one above, can come about. The football is nearly on the 0-yard line and the ref is in the way of a thundering herd rushing in to see what they can do about it.

It’s hard to imagine what it takes to paint a crowd like this. If you have an eagle eye, you’ll spot a lot of detail along that wall: coffee cups, pop bottles (glass—a complete no-no at sporting events these days), binoculars, and one man to the left using an umbrella to try to retrieve his hat. Thornton Utz painted this for a mid-October Post cover in 1949.


Football Pile-up

Football Pile-up by Constantin Alajalov from October 23, 1948


Football Pile-up
by Constantin Alajalov
from October 23, 1948

Russian-born artist Constantin Alajalov had a wry way of depicting everyday American life, which he happily did for many Saturday Evening Post and New Yorker covers. The poor ref in this 1948 cover doesn’t have a clue who to start whistling at.


Coin Toss

Coin Toss by Norman Rockwell from October 21, 1950


Coin Toss
by Norman Rockwell
from October 21, 1950

We can’t salute referees without this classic 1950 cover by Norman Rockwell. The artist liked to wander over to the local high school football field during breaks from the easel, and watch the kids play. This sunny October scene also boasts a fairly detailed crowd of noncombatants in the background.


But, Ref!

But, Ref! by Lonie Bee from October 22, 1938


But, Ref!
by Lonie Bee
from October 22, 1938

Here’s another cover by West Coast artist Lonie Bee. In fact, the model in this 1938 cover looks like the same referee who was working hard to get that dog off the field in the 1941 cover. Bee did half a dozen Post covers, all with a sports theme. The title for this one is apt: But, Ref!

Now, sit back and enjoy the game—and maybe lay off the refs a bit.


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  • Ken Harris

    Great to see and enjoy the light side if our refs!! They are essential to the enjoyment of the game, only chaos without ‘em!!

  • These are all great football covers, without a doubt. I really love ‘Dog on the Field’ and ‘But Ref’ by Lonie Bee whose work I wasn’t familiar with before. Both are great ‘action/moving’ covers. The dog’s wonderful!

    ‘Third Down Goal to Go’ and ‘Football Pile-Up’ by Thornton Utz and Alajalov are excellent also, the former featuring a ‘blimps eye’ view; an unusual angle, and the latter an unusual MESS I would not want to be in!

  • Allan Hamlin

    Sure brings back a lot of memories as kid who loves football. Really great how you chose each of these cover pictures. Keep up the good work.

  • I have the Saturday Evening Post magazine with the Norman Rockwell painting on the front of “Coin Toss”, and the date on my issue says October 76, which would be 1976. It is an original magazine.