Infamous replacement ref living with his decision

TACOMA — Why stay in the spotlight? Why, when you’re known as the ref responsible for one of the most controversial calls in NFL history, would you pose for pictures with Golden Tate, the player who caught that much-debated touchdown that gave the Seahawks a Monday Night Football victory over Green Bay, an act that Packers fans undoubtedly see as rubbing it in?

Well if you’re Lance Easley, the replacement referee who made that now-infamous call, the answer to those questions is simple. Easley was the umpire at Richard Sherman’s charity softball game Sunday not because he was trying to milk his 15 minutes of fame for all they’re worth, or because he wants to rub salt in the wounds of Packers fans who still feel wronged. Easley, a former Marine, was at Cheney Stadium because Sherman asked, and because he believed in the charities Sherman’s game was supporting, particularly Helping A Hero, an organization that builds adapted homes for wounded veterans and their families.

“I’m here for charity, and I would do the same for (Packers) charities,” he said. “I have no ill-will against any team, I’m not a Seahawk fan, I’m not a Green Bay fan. I stopped being a fan years ago.

“That’s why I’m here, to give back.”

And sure, Easley does have a book to promote — “Making the call: living with your decisions” comes out in August — but more than anything, the born-again Christian says his main motivation is helping a good cause while also trying to promote a positive image of officials in all sports.

“They’re good people,” said Easley. “They’re just good hard-working Americans who are out there to do a thankless job, like a police officer. I think a positive light should be shined. We just had a soccer official killed in Utah recently. I just want to give a face to those people and say, ‘Hey, it’s a game, we’re out there and it’s a no-win situation for officials.’”

Easley will be back in the area over Labor Day weekend, speaking at the Gold Creek Community Church in Mill Creek, and he estimates he’s doing two or three speaking engagements a month. Those commitments, along with his job in banking, and a desire to spend more time with his family have lead Easley to give up officiating, a decision he said was not based on the fallout from the call that helped end the NFL officiating lockout.

As for the touchdown call, Easley says that time hasn’t changed his view of the play, “Oh yeah, I wouldn’t change it. I can’t.”

Easley admits that in retrospect he wished he would have conferred with other officials to avoid the scenario that played out — him signaling touchdown while back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn waived his hands over his head to signal timeout. But Easley explains that, given all the scrutiny replacement officials had been under up to that point, he wanted to make a decisive call because he knew hesitation to make a call and officials conferencing before deciding the game would only lead to more criticism.

“The NFL upheld it, I’ve looked at plenty of video, I’ve talked to my replay guys, there’s nothing to turn it over,” Easley said. “The fact is, if you want to say that the defender had control of it in the air — which is loosely used, because really process of a catch you have to have two feet, or another body part, and control the ball when you touch the ground in bounds — the ball could have come loose anywhere in that process for a second, which nobody can really see even with all the cameras, and if it did, then it’s a loose ball but it didn’t touch the ground, so if they’re both on it, it goes to the offense. So it was just one of those calls. It’s just a play that will live in NFL history.”

And while Easley will put on a referees uniform, have fake arguments with Russell Wilson and sign autographs for Seahawks fans — likely the only NFL fans who would want his autograph — don’t expect him to change his mind about the call even if he’s willing to make light of the moment that changed his life.

“I just happened to be stuck in the middle of it,” he said. “I made a call, it was a correct call — even though Green Bay fans will never say it’s correct — it was a difficult call, and it was one you just don’t want. As an official you want black and white calls, you don’t want gray calls, and that was a gray call that you had to be involved in and make it within a couple of seconds.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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