It was one of the most controversial decisions by referees in the history of the National Football League: A desperation throw and catch on the game’s last play that was ruled a touchdown, despite what appeared to be a defender’s interception, and which gave the Seattle Seahawks a 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Making the ruling for the touchdown was official Lance Easley, a banker from Santa Maria who worked the game as a replacement ref. The regular officials were on strike from the NFL when the Sept. 24 game occurred.
The NFL stood behind the ruling on the field, but also said the Seahawks receiver had interfered with the Packers defender and that the touchdown should not have counted. The outcome was so controversial that the stalemated talks with the referees union got settled just days later.
A media firestorm came after the game, with Easley being called by national news reporters and event Matt Lauer, one of the anchors of NBC’s “Today” show. Other reporters went to his home and followed him to a work assignment in Fresno.
On Thursday, Easley shared what he learned from the experience with members of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. Appearing at the monthly Good Morning San Luis Obispo breakfast, Easley, who normally worked high school and community college games, said he loved his several weeks as a replacement official, but admitted the experience after the Seahawks game was challenging.
“The scrutiny just kept building and building,” said Easley, a Bank of America vice president who helps small business clients. He said an NFL official told him no professional sports referees had ever undergone such criticism of a game decision.
“I was the most Twittered person for a week,” Easley joked. “Even more than Kim Kardashian.”
Easley used an acronym D.E.A.F to describe how he endured the criticism that followed the game:
“People say refs are blind, but really, I am deaf,” he said. “The D is for decision. I drew a line in the sand and stayed tough.” The former Marine said he “would not be a victim” regardless of what people said or thought about him.
The E is for embracing the issue. Easley said he chose to not run from the pressure so that it could shape his character, much like pressure turns rock into diamond.
The A stands for attitude, he explained. “It’s like setting a thermostat every day. I get up and say it’s going to be a great day.”
And the F stands for the foundation of his Christian faith, family and friends — ingredients essential to his getting through the controversy, Easley said.
“If something like this happens to you,” he told the business audience, “call me.”