American Football Database
Ben Dreith
Born1925 (age 96–97)
Nationality United States
EducationUniversity of Northern Colorado
(Bachelor's degree, 1950)
OccupationAFL official (1960–1969)
NFL official (1970–1990)

Ben Dreith (born 1925) is a former American professional football on-field official who worked from 1960 to 1969 in the American Football League (AFL) and from 1970 to 1990 in the NFL. Prior to his teaching and officiating career, he was a three-sport athlete at the University of Northern Colorado.

Dreith developed a reputation of being a no-nonsense, tough-minded official on the field.[1] His career is most notable for an unnecessary roughness announcement on his microphone during a 1986 NFL season game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets and a controversial call during a 1976 playoff game between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders. During his thirty-year career, he officiated two Super Bowls, and received a playoff assignment for twenty-eight consecutive years.[1]


Dreith is a 1950 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado where he played baseball, basketball, and football. He was a four-time All-Conference selection in baseball and two-time in basketball. He later worked as a teacher for Denver Public Schools.

Officiating career

Dreith was hired by the AFL in 1960 and he later worked for the NFL in 1970, following the AFL-NFL merger. Dreith was the referee during Super Bowl VIII and Super Bowl XV and was assigned eight conference championship games. He also was an alternate official in Super Bowl II. He wore uniform number 12, which is now worn by Greg Steed.

Memorable games

During the 1976 playoff between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots, Dreith called a roughing-the-passer penalty on Patriots tackle Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton, nullifying a third down incompletion and giving the Raiders an automatic first down deep in New England territory, which led to Oakland's game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left. Replays showed there was no illegal contact. Partially because of the controversy, Dreith was not assigned to work any games involving the Patriots until 1987.

In 1983 in his typical no-nonsense fashion, in a late season of Steelers vs. Browns, Dreith punished Jack Lambert by ejecting him from the game for what he considered a late hit on Brian Sipe. This was also Sipe's last game as a Cleveland Brown. Dreith is also known among football fans for his unique explanation of a personal foul penalty during a 1986 game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. After the Jets' Marty Lyons (misidentified as Mark Gastineau during Dreith's call) tackled Bills quarterback Jim Kelly to the ground and started to repeatedly punch him in the head, Dreith announced to the crowd: "There's a personal foul, on number 99 of the defense — after he tackled the quarterback, he's giving him the business down there, that's a 15-yard penalty." [2] Dreith's call also involved an improvised hand signal of a repeated punching action.[3] Twenty-one years later, on November 24, 2007, during a game between University of Maryland and North Carolina State University, ACC referee Ron Cherry called a personal foul, saying, "He was giving him the business." Cherry did not use Dreith's hand signal.[4]

Age discrimination lawsuit

By 1990, Dreith reached the age of 65 and the league asked him to move into the instant replay booth. He refused and was demoted to line judge. Dreith was fired after the season, thus prompting him to send a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

On February 13, 1991, the EEOC ruled that the NFL had violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by illegally demoting Dreith.[5] After attempts to reach a compromise with the league, the EEOC sued the NFL on August 13. In the first-ever lawsuit filed by the agency against Professional Football for age discrimination, the EEOC claimed that the NFL unfairly reviewed the job performance of older referees more closely than younger officials.[6] The EEOC also noted that the league's performance ratings showed that Dreith performed better than some of the younger officials who were retained.[7]

On January 5, 1993, Dreith and the NFL agreed to a $165,000 settlement, plus court costs and attorney fees.[8]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Moss, Irv. "Ben Dreith". Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 6 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-10.
  2. NFL officials aren't as bad as they seem by Dan Bickley, Arizona Republic, January 18, 2006 (Last accessed Nov. 26, 2007)
  3. Ben Dreith: Giving Him The Business! video at YouTube
  4. Ron Cherry: "He was giving him the business!!!" video at YouTube
  5. "Former Referee Suing NFL" The Record (New Jersey) July 26, 1991, pp. D3
  6. "Ref Dreith fouled, according to suit" Houston Chronicle August 14, 1991, Sports section, pp. 3
  7. "Commission sues NFL for age discrimination on behalf of ex-referee" Dallas Morning News August 14, 1991, pp. 8B
  8. "NFL Pays $165,000 To Ex-Ref: Age Discrimination Suit Finally Settled" Rocky Mountain News January 6, 1993, pp. 58

External links