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Myth debunked: Referee Ben Dreith actually worked Patriots games after the Sugar Bear Hamilton call

Football Zebras research can debunk a popular myth. After referee Ben Dreith’s controversial roughing the passer in the 1976 playoffs — a penalty against Patriots defensive tackle Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton that kept the Oakland Raiders’ game-winning drive alive — the myth is Dreith never worked another Patriots game the rest of his career that ended in 1990.

Back in 1976, the roughing the passer rule interpretation was less stringent than today. But, Dreith called Hamilton for hitting Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler in the head. (It would certainly be a foul in 2022). The infraction gave the Raiders a first down and allowed them to score the winning touchdown.

Patriots Nation was not amused.

For several years, the story was that Dreith never worked another Patriots game due to the controversial call. I opined that permanently scratching officials from teams after a controversial call is not the answer.

Well, I did a little off-season browsing, and lo and behold, I discovered that Dreith did work a late-season 1988 Patriots game where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the guest in Foxborough.

And, thanks to our partner Quirky Research, we discovered that Dreith’s first Patriots game he officiated after the Sugar Bear Hamilton game was October 26, 1980, when the Patriots were on the road playing the Buffalo Bills.

So, the myth is debunked. Ben Dreith did work New England Patriots games after his controversial 1976 call. Kudos to then officiating boss Art McNally for not caving in to public relations and putting the veteran referee back on Patriots games, even though Dreith’s name is still cursed in vain today in New England.

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Mark Schultz
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?"

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