He was born and raised in Gilbert, Minnesota and later attended college at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota where he graduated in 1962. He played football at Saint John's under John Gagliardi, the all-time winningest coach in collegiate football history. Bernie played defensive back on defense and quarterback on offense, but was later moved to running back. He also returned punts and kicks.
He began his NFL officiating career in 1984 as a back judge and was promoted to referee seven years later at the start of the 1991 NFL season, which came after the retirement of the "Dean of Referees", Jim Tunney and the promotion of Jerry Seeman to the Director of Officiating in the NFL office. Prior to joining the NFL, he officiated four years at the high school level, and a total of 19 years at the college level with four years at Division III, 11 years at Division II, and four years in the Big Ten Conference (Division I).