The Golden Tate hail mary Monday Night clusterfuck was one of the all-time national NFL stories, but everyone moved on fairly quickly. The regular referees came back next week, the standings weren't permanently affected (though the loss gave the 49ers home field against Green Bay in the playoffs), and one of the most egregious blown calls in football history faded to a footnote.
Not for Lance Easley, the replacement side judge who first signaled touchdown. The aftermath became a plebiscite on his competence, from his career as a banking executive to his flunking out of a D-1 officiating camp to his attempt get paid for his story. Easley finally spoke at length about that night, five months ago, returning to the scene of the crime with seattlepi.com.
Here's how Easley described the play:
"I'm going, ‘Oh no.' I'm just praying that when I get to the ball, one of them had just taken it away from the other," Easley, 53, told seattlepi.com Friday.
"I get over there, they're so tied up and tangled up, arms all wrapped around. Nobody could pull it away, equal strength. Then I looked at my back judge who was there, Derrick (Rhone-Dunn) - we looked at each other and I'm thinking: ‘Oh, OK. The media, if we don't sell this thing, they're going to crucify us.' Because if we stop and talk about it, they're just gonna go, ‘These idiots, they don't know what they're doing' - just like they were all through the whole (lockout)."
This is an understandable reaction, if not reassuring. Easley and all the replacement officials couldn't fail to be aware of the controversy, especially after the nationally televised officiating debacle of the Patriots-Ravens game the night before. The human reaction would have been the one enacted in living rooms across the nation—"I have no idea what happened, let's see the replay" but Easley and the crew didn't have that option. They had to signal something, and couldn't look unsure about it.
That goal was not achieved, as Easley and Rhone-Dunn signaled different things. Easley claims they had an eye contact understanding, but that seems suspect on the replay.
"I looked at his eyes, he looked at me. He looked down, he saw the same thing I had, so there was really nothing else we could do. So bang, I go up with (the touchdown signal). His hands go up and he does ‘stop clock.' That was so we could talk about it; he and I talked about it afterwards. But my ruling was official. And I knew, after I made that call, I knew that if I erred it was going to replay, they'll resolve it there. So then I just had to break up the players and deal with the chaos that came afterwards."
Easley made his call, and it stood only because replay couldn't produce any conclusive angles to overturn it. The need to be decisive manifested as a hasty and speculative touchdown call, crystallized by chance.
Back in the officials' room, Easley says there was more controversy about getting the Packers back on to the field for the extra point than over the touchdown. And, naively, he expected the furor to blow over within a couple days. But his phone kept ringing, the replays kept airing, and he had what sounds like a mini-breakdown on Wednesday morning.
Then the threats started coming. They were mainly from gamblers, Easley said, who demanded he pay them back the $10,000 they'd lost because of his call. There were a few death threats, and many menacing phone calls from Green Bay fans who had somehow found his number. He and his wife, Corina, had to call the cops when a suspicious package showed up on their doorstep; it turned out to be a bunch of cheese curds with a note that read, "The Cheeseheads will never forget."
Easley seems better these days, accepting that "I can't change [the call], and I wouldn't." He credits his faith, and has said as much at several speaking engagements. (He seems to be pushing a career in motivational speaking, and has a book coming out, but save your money because you've already read the best parts.) We wish him the best, both at his day job, and in his future role as a union slogan in the inevitable 2019 referee lockout.