Bill Dittmar started a fire, made some hot chocolate and curled up on the couch with his wife and dog Monday night. Together they watched a replay of Saturday's Major League Soccer Cup final between Real Salt Lake and host Sporting Kansas City.
Dittmar enjoyed no such comforts while refereeing the match in sub-freezing conditions.
A Peninsula soccer staple for three decades, Dittmar called the MLS Cup, his first, the pinnacle of an officiating career that includes three NCAA College Cups, the 2013 MLS All-Star game and a 2003 Champions World Tour match between Manchester United and Juventus FC.
"An incredible, incredible experience," he said Tuesday. "I'm still on cloud nine. Today's the first day I got anything done in the last six days."
After 90 minutes of regulation and 30 of overtime failed to resolve the match — the teams were deadlocked 1-all — Kansas City prevailed in 10 rounds of penalty kicks, 7-6. If that weren't enough drama, the sides, not to mention spectators and officials, endured temperatures in the high teens and single-digit wind chills.
Protected only by two layers of Under Armour, a standard referee's shirt, shorts, socks, cleats and gloves, Dittmar smeared Vaseline over exposed skin to prevent windburn. As one of two assistant referees, he patrolled a sideline, which offered its own challenges.
"We thought the temperature was going to be the brutal part," Dittmar said, "but what was more brutal was my whole sideline was frozen and there were parts of the field that were frozen. That was the scary part and it actually took my mind off the cold during the match because I was just trying to make sure I didn't fall. I had cleats on, but there was nothing to dig into. So I ran a lot on the field, which we usually don't do."
Media accounts and Dittmar describe the match as unusually physical, especially as players adjusted early to the conditions. During overtime, Dittmar, fellow assistant Paul Scott and head referee Hilario Grajeda waved off two goals for offsides infractions, calls that Dittmar believed were just.
Still knotted after overtime, the match went to penalty kicks, a stage that required Dittmar to be at midfield and log each player before his attempt.
"I took off my gloves, which was a stupid thing," he said. "My hands were sweating, so once I took my gloves off (the sweat) froze on my fingertips. I had handwarmers in my pocket, but they felt like they were ice cubes by that point."
Accompanied to Kansas City by his brother, sister and wife, Heidi, Dittmar dropped his family at the front door of the hotel after the match. Parking the car, and alone for the first time in days, he exhaled.
"It was like this incredible weight taken off your shoulders," Dittmar said. "The all-star game doesn't compare, because the all-star game, it doesn't really matter who wins, and it doesn't change lives. Winning championships changes … players' lives."
Preparing for his 18th season as Denbigh High's boys varsity coach, Dittmar was a four-year starter at Christopher Newport during the 1980s. He still competes in a Peninsula adult league, but the conditioning required for officiating arguably exceeds that for a player.
Dittmar travels constantly during the fall and between college and MLS worked 62 matches in 120 days this season.
"My legs feel great, my body feels great, but I'm ready to take a little break," he said.
Emphasis on "little." Come Jan. 30, Dittmar again will subject himself to MLS' annual fitness test for officials.
This is where Dittmar leans heavily on Heidi, his wife of 22 years and business partner with Executive Lifestyle Magazine. She trains with him and boots his backside when he attempts to slack.
Good thing, too, given the test.
Referees first must run six 40-yard sprints in six seconds or less. The interval between sprints is 90 seconds.
That's mere warm-up for the 150-meter sprints, 20 of them in 30 seconds or less, with precious walking time in between. Eight-minute-mile joggers will appreciate this calculation: Running 150 meters in 30 seconds is approximately a 5:20 mile pace.
"I'm 48 now," Dittmar said, "so it's gotten a little more difficult over the past few years. It's one of the most stressful things in my life. You don't want to fail personally. You don't want to fail in front of your peers."
Rest assured, Dittmar's peers watched Saturday as he helped preside over a championship match that was determined by the players rather than an official's errant stray whistle. Watching the tape gave Dittmar a greater appreciation for the moment, the teams and his fellow referees.
Dittmar wears a heart monitor on the job, and during Saturday's match it calculated that he burned 2,030 calories, considerably more than his average match.
"I'm sure shivering," Dittmar said, "counts for extra calories."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun