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Happy belated birthday to Ben Dreith



Former NFL referee still giving them the business at age 90

February 1, 2015 was a big day for former AFL and NFL referee Ben Dreith.  He celebrated nine decades on earth by watching Super Bowl XLIX.  Dreith, who lives in Denver, was profiled by a local television station as he celebrated his special day (video).

Dreith joined the AFL in its inaugural season in 1960 as a field judge (now called back judge).  He became a referee for the 1965 season, and once the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, Dreith stayed at the referee position.  He was the alternate referee for Super Bowl II, and called the action on the field for Super Bowl VIII and Super Bowl XV.  Dreith worked in the playoffs in 28 of his 31-years in pro ball.  He worked many memorable playoff games, including the 1980 divisional playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns – the infamous Red Right 88 game.

Dreith is the author of perhaps the most famous officiating announcement in NFL history.  During a 1986 Jets-Bills game, a scrum broke out after Marty Lyons of the Jets gave the Bills Jim Kelly a few extra shots.  After Dreith restored order, he stepped into the clear, flipped on his microphone, and gave America the “giving him the business” call.

While it is clear Dreith was perturbed at the fight that preceded “giving him the business,” that was usually his demeanor on the microphone.  Dreith developed the reputation as a tough-minded, strong-willed official who ruled games with an iron fist and wasn’t afraid to bark at or scold players, coaches and sometimes his fellow officials if the game started getting sideways.  When I observed him, it seemed like Dreith viewed personal fouls and other unsportsmanlike conduct as an affront to his attempts to keep the game under control.

Dreith left the field after the 1990 season but it was a controversial exit.  After the 1989 NFL season, at age 65, the NFL asked Dreith to retire and be a replay official.  The referee refused and the NFL made him a line judge – a position he never worked.  After one season at line judge, Dreith was fired by the NFL.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the NFL for age discrimination, accusing the NFL of grading Dreith more strictly than his younger counter parts.  Dreith and the NFL eventually came to a settlement where Dreith received $165,000 from the league, plus court costs and attorney fees.

Off the gridiron, Dreith was a college basketball official and a high school gym teacher.  In a very ironic situation, one of Dreith’s faculty colleagues at the school where he taught was Pat Haggerty, an NFL official from 1964 – 1992.

Happy belated birthday to Ben Dreith – a NFL officiating great.

Photo: Ben Dreith (left) calls a play in Super Bowl VIII. Affirming his call are fellow officials Ralph Morcroft (center) and Fritz Graf.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"