Forty-eight hours later, he is in a middle school gym in Zionsville. He wears a striped shirt and a wry smile that peeks around his whistle as he works a game 140 miles, two days and millions of worldwide witnesses removed from the fury of Saturday night in Cincinnati.
Dana McKenzie is a basketball official, working the seventh-grade girls game Monday night between Zionsville West and Guion Creek middle schools. After it’s over, the coach at Guion Creek tells me Dana McKenzie and his partner, Josh DeLoddere, are as good as any crew he’s seen this season.
The coach at Guion Creek doesn’t know who Dana McKenzie is.
Before I tell him, I ask coach Cord Baldwin if he watches the NFL. Yes, he says. Did he know about that crazy Bengals-Steelers game from Saturday night? Yes, he says.
One of the referees here, I tell Baldwin. Dana McKenzie. That one. He was an official in that NFL playoff game.
“Crazy game,” Baldwin tells me. “Wait – what?”
Right, I tell Baldwin. One of your referees here was the head linesman Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium. After the sequence of violence and penalty flags that turned victory into defeat for Cincinnati, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was hounding an official around the field. That was Dana McKenzie, I tell the coach of Guion Creek.
Baldwin goes quiet. We’re standing just off the court, in a hallway at Zionsville West Middle School. The walls here are beige and made of cinder blocks, with motivational quotations painted in green letters. We’re standing in front of a John Wooden quote that reads, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when nobody is watching.”
Cord Baldwin looks through a window toward the court, remembering a game that was exquisitely officiated, a game almost nobody was watching. He talks softly. I think he’s talking to himself.
“He referees seventh-grade girls basketball,” Baldwin muses. “Why does he do that?”
That’s what I’m here to find out.