"What do you mean it's against the rules to wear my cape?"
If you’re going to blow the whistle, you’ve got to stand behind your call. Referee Joe DeRosa made that much clear when he was officiating in the Eastern Conference Finals earlier this week when a heckling fan seemed to get the best of him during halftime. DeRosa tossed a basketball at the rude spectator, and when the fan threw it back, DeRosa’s punishment was swift, harsh, and steady - get off my court!
Questionable decision? Maybe. But judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one? You betcha. Like a John Wayne of the court, DeRosa merited justice as he saw fit, but he isn’t the only ref to have done so. DeRosa merely serves as the latest example in a long line of rebel refs.
When talking about guys who stand their ground, leading contenders would have to include Bob "Covert" Delaney, an NBA ref. Covert because Delaney worked as an undercover cop for 2-and-a-half years, infiltrating the New Jersey mob as a union member of a trucking organization. After hanging around mobsters, Delaney switched to whistle blowing for the NBA. Suddenly, calling foul on an outraged 7-foot-1 Shaq seems like a sneeze.
Perhaps the biggest trailblazers among refs is Violet Palmer, who became the NBA’s first female ref — and first female to officiate a major professional league men’s game — after being denied the duties at the NCAA men’s tournament on account of, well, being a woman. In 1997, Palmer refereed the season opener (a Grizzlies-Mavericks game) and hasn’t looked back. She was even on the job for the infamous Knicks and Nuggets Brawl in ’06, where Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games for punching Mardy Collins.
In terms of finding a ref who could be mistaken as player, Ed Hochuli, nicknamed Hochules, resembles a peewee version of the Hulk. Ed’s been on the receiving end of some controversial calls, and knows when to hold 'em and when to acknowledge he probably should’ve folded them. Like when he apologized to Chargers head coach Norv Turner for blowing a call during a Broncos-Chargers game in 2008 where Hochuli called a Jay Cutler fumble an incomplete pass and ruled the play dead. Norv didn’t accept the apology, but it took a stomach of steel for Hochuli to admit he botched the call.
Of course, the one ref you definitely don’t want to argue calls with is UFC’s Predator lookalike, Herb Dean. Dean - himself a professional fighter - officiated one of the ugliest moments in fight history when Frank Mir armbarred ex-UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia to the point where Dean saw the bone snap. No one else thought the arm was broken, and Sylvia argued the stoppage, saying his arm was fine. But amidst the booing fans, Dean stood his ground and the replay showcased his correct call (and also grossed out audience members everywhere).
And the Clint Eastwood of all rebel refs? Without a doubt, Billy Crystal’s Mickey Gordon in "Forget Paris." Disagree? Crystal’s character throws out the starting teams, a coach, and a trainer. Under what call? A broken heart. After all, beneath the stone-cold resolve of a ref’s face, they’re only human.