Area ref creates title game buzz
By Dave Rogers
For The Record
Mauriceville resident Mike Defee was an unlikely star in Monday night’s College Football Playoffs Championship game.
The veteran Big 12 Conference referee blew up on Twitter and the Internet during the highly anticipated game won by Clemson over Alabama with just a second left.
People noticed his physique, especially his super-sized arms.
Let the writer for the Men’s Health website explain:
“The game was an instant classic, yet all anyone was able to talk about was Mike Defee, the totally jacked referee officiating the game … Every time Defee signaled to make a call on the field, his biceps and triceps busted out of his tight, black-and-white striped shirt.”
While ESPN announcers Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler admired his arms, others tweeted photos of Defee from their TV screens accompanied by comments, like:
“Despite heightened National Championship security, this ref managed to sneak two guns in.”
“I can’t stop staring at his arms.”
“Why’s the head ref the most jacked guy on the field?”
“The ref’s arm is never not flexing,” captioned a photo of Defee signaling a first down.
A Vine video of Defee signaling penalties was altered to make it look like he was slugging punching bags and pumping dumbbells. Someone even created the fake Twitter account: @MikeDefeeArms.
Although Defee spent Tuesday traveling back from the game in Tampa, Florida, his Nederland office staff found its phone lines jammed with requests for Defee to appear on shows like Good Morning America and Inside Edition.
“It is wild. We’ve had major, major, major phone calls for him this morning,” said Mary Ellis of Newtron Beaumont, an electrical and instrumentation construction company managed by Defee.
ABC News aired an interview done with Defee after the game.
“I’m just amazed that people in the social world make a big deal out of a football official,” he said. “I’m a 55-year-old man. I’m really not in the Twitter world.”
Of course, the interview included talk about his fitness routine.
“Contrary to what some people think I don’t just work arms,” Defee said.
“I try to keep my whole body in shape. I’ve had several players come up to me and grab me by the arm and say, ‘Gee, ref, what’s your workout routine?’ or ‘How much do you bench?’
“It’s a compliment, coming from these young kids.”
Defee began his officiating career locally on a crew that included Orange County Attorney John Kimbrough. They started out doing small school games and ended up calling 5A playoff games, Kimbrough recalls.
While a bad knee sent Kimbrough to the radio booth, Defee has been officiating Division I football games for almost two decades.
He started in the Southland Conference and has worked for a dozen years or so in the Big 12.
Kimbrough said he was back judge on the top Big 12 crew headed by well-known referee Randy Christal until Defee was promoted after Christal retired.
Defee worked three Big 12 championship games, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the 2012 national championship game as back judge. This was his first national championship game as referee, coming after being the referee for the 2015 Cotton Bowl between Alabama and Michigan State, which served as last year’s CFP semifinal.
A Google search of Mike Defee Tuesday morning turned up aggregations of the championship game tweets on websites as random as Men’s Health, Sporting News and US Weekly, which described his arms as “superbuff.”
The video of the Monday night ABC News interview referenced above was followed immediately by a story about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie handling their divorce privately.
Friends say the attention embarrasses Defee.
“He’s a great guy, a great, great boss,” Ellis said.
“I’m glad he’s getting the recognition. He’s very health conscious. It’s paying off.”