PSA: Referees are people too! But really, the zebra-striped arbiters of order inside the lines are working an overwhelmingly thankless job.
They are the recipients of absolutely no love from any quarters. And we expect them to be impartial arbiters of justice, faithfully reporting on infractions with stoic gestures akin to air traffic marshalls.
But one of the most legendary occurrences of a ref injecting a hilarious human element into his calls came during the 1986 NFL season. Ben Dreith, reffing a game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, made the following call on Marty Lyons, who had pummeled Bills’ QB Jim Kelly after a play.
“Personal foul, No. 99 of the defense. After he tackled the quarterback, he’s giving him the business down there. That’s a 15-yard penalty.”
Giving him the business down there! Of course, it’s Dreith’s “punching and grinding” gesture that takes the “giving him the business” call to another level.
ESPN talked to Lyons on the 30th anniversary of “giving him the business,” and this is what he had to say, indicating as well that fans still ask him about the penalty with regularity.
“I landed on top of him and — I’ll clean this up — he said, ‘Get the F off me,'” Lyons said. “I said, ‘F you,’ and that started it. The following Wednesday, when the fines came from the league, I got an $800 fine for fighting. I remember thinking, ‘I got my money’s worth.’ I got in at least eight punches.
And you have to absolutely adore college refereeing demigod, Ron Cherry reprising the great Ben Dreith call in this early 2000s clip from a Maryland-North Carolina State game. Game recognize game, as they say.