Longtime NFL referee Ben Dreith dies at 96

USA Today

Ben Dreith, a referee who spent decades as a pro football official and is best remembered for one colorful call on the microphone, has died at the age of 96.

In a 1986 game when the Jets were roughing up Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, Dreith famously announced a penalty by saying, “There’s a personal foul, on number 99 of the defense. After he tackled the quarterback, he’s givin’ him the business down there. That’s a 15-yard penalty.”

NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Walt Anderson remembered Dreith as one of the league’s finest officials.

“Ben was one of the most respected referees in football,” Anderson said in a statement. “While his wit and description of the action on the field will be remembered by everyone, his commitment and passion to the game was something all of us as game officials aspire to emulate.”

Dreith became an American Football League official in 1960 and joined the NFL after the 1970 merger of the two leagues. He refereed Super Bowl VIII and Super Bowl XV and was chosen as a playoff official for 28 straight years.

13 responses to “Longtime NFL referee Ben Dreith dies at 96

  1. Ben Dreith will always be remembered in New England for what was perhaps the worst, and most consequential, call in NFL playoff history, almost certainly costing the Patriots the Super Bowl championship in 1976.

    With the Patriots leading the Raiders 21-17 with about one minute left in the game in Oakland, the Raiders faced 3rd and 18 on the Patriots 36 yard line. The pass was incomplete but a phantom roughing the passer call by Ben Dreith on Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton gave the Raiders a first down on the Patriots’ 13 yard line. Replays show that the call was almost certainly wrong. Ken Stabler then ran in a touchdown. The Patriots were arguably the best team in the NFL that year and had it all pulled away from them on one terrible call.

    When Raiders fans complain about “The Tuck Rule Game”, Patriots fans respond with this phantom roughing the passer call.

  2. Hamilton did rough Stabler, the video does not lie, it was the right call and no the Patriots were not the best team in 1976, they were good but in no way great, time to get over it.

  3. Every time Ben Dreith refereed a game in New England after that, he was booed lustily.. and he deserved it. Terrible call.

  4. The roughing the passer call against Sugar Bear Hamilton in the 1976 playoff game was a lot more legit than the tuck rule call in 2001. For Patriot fans to come on here and say that call kept them out of the Super Bowl is pure fantasy. Patriots had never sniffed a Super Bowl at that point in time and had no idea what it took to get to one. There was still the matter of the AFC Championship Game that had to be dealt with. And to assume the Patriots were the best team in the league in 1976 is another fantasy. They had no playoff experience, no tradition of winning, nothing to suggest they were the best team in the league.

  5. I’ll let the fact checkers check me on this, but if I’m not mistaken, Drieth was also the referee in the 1975 Cowboys-Vikings divisional playoff that was decided on the original “Hail Mary” by Roger Staubach in the last minute of the game. If I’m not mistaken, Dreith got conked on the head by an object (empty whiskey bottle, I believe) flung from the stands in Bloomington by Viking fans enraged at what happened.

  6. I watched the “Givin’ him the business down there” game, I roared laughing then, and again today. Classic.

  7. RIP Ben. You were in our living rooms on many Sunday’s. You were the best in the business, or you wouldn’t have lasted so long.

  8. You can go on youtube and see the video…It was a bad call by Dreith against NE. He even admitted later that “he blew the call!”

  9. domefieldadvantage says:
    May 7, 2021 at 11:20 am
    If I’m not mistaken, Dreith got conked on the head by an object (empty whiskey bottle, I believe) flung from the stands in Bloomington by Viking fans enraged at what happened.

    The official who was injured was Armen Terzian, not Dreith.

  10. “The Patriots were arguably the best team in the NFL that year and had it all pulled away from them on one terrible call.”

    Not even close. They were the lowest seeded AFC team and would have had to go into Pittsburgh for the AFC championship. The Steelers were the hottest team in football that year coming into the playoffs and probably would have beaten the Raiders if the game was in Pittsburgh. The ’76 Steel Curtain was as good as the ’85 Bears D. Slow start and injuries on offense doomed them. But Steelers vs. Patriots would have a Super Bowl XX level bloodbath that we’d still be laughing about.

  11. the nfl knew ben made a mistake in 1976, as he didn’t appear at a patriots home game until 1991. and then when he did, they changed his number from 9 to 16

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