Lance Easley may go down as one of the most infamous NFL officials of all time, and he only officiated a few regular-season games. As you probably know, Easley is the referee who ruled that Packers cornerback M.D. Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had simultaneous possession on this Hail Mary play that gave Seattle a win over Green Bay. The replay appeared to show Easley made the wrong call.
While the two players may have eventually shared possession of the ball, that appeared to happen when Tate clearly wrestled his arms into the mix after Jennings had already established possession. Easley didn’t see it that way then and he doesn’t see it that way now.
“Yes,” Easley said on TODAY when asked if he believes it was the right call. “Until they change the rule, I can’t do anything about the call.”
Two of the NFL’s replacement officials who worked the first seven weeks of the NFL season (including preseason) appeared on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” Wednesday night to share some of their experiences. As expected, Jim Core and Wayne Elliott had a number of interesting stories to share with the show’s viewers, including accounts of players who swore at them and fans who left them voicemails telling them to kill themselves.
One particularly interesting piece of info came when the officials were asked who the most difficult coach to deal with was. With little hesitation, Core singled out Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.
“He’s college,” Core explained. “The rest of them acted at a different level. You could just tell working with them that they were at a different level than what I felt he was at.”
A lot of NFL coaches would agree that Schiano is still “college,” as evidenced by the outrage he has caused by instructing his players to play hard until the final whistle under any circumstances. But with all the yelling and insults replacement refs had to hear, that says a lot that Core was able to single out one head coach.
Elliott, who was the official who made the announcement that the Seahawks Hail Mary stood as called on the field, said he received hundreds of angry voicemails from Wisconsin fans but one admirable one from Mike McCarthy. He said McCarthy told him he handled himself with class whether he agreed with the call or not.
Surprisingly enough, both officials said they would do it again if they had the chance. Some of their coworkers have said they were nothing but pawns in a business deal, but it sounds like Elliott and Core were willing to accept that for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For much of the first three weeks of the NFL season, it looked like the replacement officials didn’t know the rules. Many will tell you that football is football at any level. You might think all the calls the fill-in refs blew were a product of them being intimidated by the players and coaches, but replacement official Jerry Hughes would tell you the amount of additional rules at the NFL level presented a challenge.
“There’s a lot more rules in the NFL,” Hughes told CBS News while demonstrating the difference in thickness between the NCAA rule book and the NFL rule book.
Well, that explains a lot. Hughes has been a football official for 40 years at all different levels, and he said working NFL games was a “dream come true.” I’m not sure how the rules about simultaneous possession translate from the lower levels of football to the big stage, but in case you haven’t heard some of the replacement officials had a bit of a problem with that. And for the record, Hughes does not consider the Seahawks’ Hail Mary in Week 3 to be a blown call.
“No. It went to replay,” he said. “They said there was not enough to overturn it. It’s the way the game is played.”
A number of people will disagree, but in a certain sense Hughes is right. That’s the way the game goes, and there were plenty of blown calls that affected the outcome of games before instant replay and replacement officials came along. The spotlight just happened to be brighter through the first three weeks. The massive NFL rulebook clearly didn’t make life easier.
Amid the influx of horror stories we have heard about replacement officials and how awful they were for the game of football, there is at least one story that sticks out from all the rest. By blowing one of the biggest calls in NFL history and essentially handing the Seahawks a win over the Packers last week, the NFL’s replacement refs changed the lives of Branford, Ontario’s Geno DiFelice.
Heading into the Monday night game last weekend, DiFelice was a perfect 14-for-14 on his Ontario Loterry (Proline) NFL picks sheet. When the officials infamously ruled that Golden Tate had simultaneous possession of a pass that Packers safety M.D. Jennings appeared to have intercepted, DiFelice won $725,274.
DiFelice’s winnings are the third-highest payout in Proline history. No, he’s not some gambling guru. In fact, the ticket he filled out himself without any advice only had four picks right. It turns out Geno can thank his daughter for the fortune he just won.
“Every week I do a ticket with my picks, and then I ask my kids (Mia, 12 and Marco, 10) who they like,” he explained. “I do one ticket each with their picks. The winner was the ticket my daughter consulted me on. The funniest part is, the ticket I made all of the picks myself, I only got four right.”
Some of the earnings better go into Mia’s college fund. DiFelice said he only watched the last 1:48 of the game because he was so nervous, and he stayed up for five hours afterward waiting to hear what he had won. If the Packers had won, he would have had to split the winnings with five others.
While the blown call may have changed the season for Seattle and Green Bay and cost other gamblers hundreds of millions, it ultimately put over $500,000 in the pocket of one lucky man in Canada.
Nearly everyone associated with the NFL and pretty much all fans of the league rejoiced when the referee lockout ended and a new deal was made. But there is one group disappointed that a deal was reached so quickly: the replacement referees.
“We were pawns. This really became a business deal,” Frump told Time. “I told my crew when we first got together, I said, ‘Gentlemen, you’re now working for probably one of the largest corporations in the country, maybe even the world. We need to keep that in mind, because we need to conduct ourselves professionally and in a way that does not degrade or disrespect what they stand for.’ This was [the NFL’s] choice. They chose to take this position in the negotiation with the union. Whether I would have [taken the job] — if I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have. We did the best we could.”
Frump acknowledged that the leap to the NFL was probably too great for many of the replacement referees and that some of them were probably unqualified for the job.
Although Frump is correct in saying that the replacement referees were pawns, I have no sympathy for any of them. If any of them were overmatched by the speed of the NFL, they shouldn’t have accepted the job. Those ones knew what they were getting themselves into; those fat paychecks don’t come without risks like being hated by fans or becoming national jokes.
At least we can Frump is coming across sounding more reasonable than this guy.
The first three weeks of the NFL season were as difficult for the replacement officials as they were for the coaches, players and fans. While they made plenty of money and we don’t necessarily have to feel sorry for them, the fill-ins took a ton of verbal abuse and became a national laughing stock.
“Honestly, sometimes during this whole thing it felt like the national pastime in this country had changed from football to bashing replacement officials,” Sadorus, a college official, explained. “Everyone wanted perfection, but come on: The last guy who was perfect they nailed to a cross. And he wasn’t even an official.”
I don’t know how I feel about comparing the situation to the story of the Bible, but most of the criticism was warranted. Even an inexperienced official should be able to admit that the refs cost Green Bay the game on Monday night. That being said, the fact that the officials were in all likelihood doing their best along the way was completely lost at times.
“Working these games was something I’d wanted to do forever and there were some incredible moments,” Sadorus said. “But there were also parts of this that I don’t think anyone could have expected. We worked very, very hard. As demonized as we were, I hope people remember that we are people, too.”
The league deserved most of the criticism for allowing the situation with the regular officials to take this long to resolve, and Roger Goodell and company did hear a lot of insults along the way. At the end of the day, I’m sure the replacement refs are just as happy to be done with the NFL as the league is happy to be done with them.
A lot of people may not realize it, but the NFL actually has separate balls for kicking and passing. Quarterbacks do not throw the same footballs that kickers and punters kick and vice versa. Casual fans watching at home have no reason to know the difference, but one might think this information would be important for the officials, right? Not the replacement refs, of course.
During a recent interview with 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, Raiders punter Shane Lechler talked about some of the issues that went along with playing in a game that was being called by replacement officials. It turns out punters are not exempt from the frustration.
“My first punt down in Miami, if you were watching the game, of course I saw it because on the first punt of the game, the (ref) refused to put the kicking ball in the game,” Lechler explained. “Then you go and kick a quarterback ball, with me being the punter, you only touch the ball for about a second. There’s no way to know. I tried to hit the punter’s ball and all throughout the pre-game I hit that ball to the 10, 8-yard line and I hit that quarterback ball and you know they are not nearly as good as the kicker’s ball. The ball went through the 25-yard line and I went down there and got the ball.
“I explained to the refs, ‘Can you guys just at least show enough respect to get the kicking ball?’ The (replacement ref) looked dead at me and goes, ‘Dude, does it really matter?’ I had a lot of choice words for him after that. … That’s like trying to kick a spiral with a pencil. It’s impossible.”
When you’re used to kicking a ball that is inflated differently and shaped slightly differently, it does make a difference. An error like that isn’t really on the same level as blowing a call on a Hail Mary to end the game or giving a team an extra timeout, but it just goes to show you that the replacements officials were capable of even giving punters headaches.