More than four years have passed since one of the most controversial calls in NFL history. Known as the “Fail Mary,” the call on Sept. 24, 2012 gave the Seattle Seahawks a debated win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.
“I was just hoping when I got to the pile that one guy had the ball, but when I got over there, they were locked up with it,” said referee Lance Easley.
At the center of the disputed decision was Easley, a banker from Santa Maria who was working as a replacement official. At the time, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association were involved in a labor dispute that began at the start of the preseason. Three weeks into the regular season, replacement officials, such as Easley, were calling the action.
The replacement officials were recruited from lower ranks, such as college and high school levels. Easley had worked as a high school and Division III official for several years prior to getting an unexpected opportunity to work at the NFL level. Now, several weeks after earning his NFL stripes, Easley was firmly in the national spotlight.
“I just had to rule what I saw,” Easley said. “They came back and it was confirmed. Game over.”
Seen by 18 million people watching the national broadcast, the call instantly changed Easley’s life forever.
“I had no idea, no idea it would turn into what it turned into,” said Easley. “I thought, okay, this will blow over, this will just go away.”
However, just the opposite happened. Suddenly, Easley was the most talked about person in the country.
“I turn on the TV and I saw on every channel they were talking about it. There I was, where I lived, Santa Maria, California,” said Easley. “(A colleague at work ) said, do you know who Kim Kardashinan is? I said, yeah, I know who that is. He said you’re more popular than she is right now on Twitter. All of a sudden, I went from just a regular guy to being in the spotlight.”
From football fans, to presidential candidates, to late night comedians, everyone, everywhere had an opinion, most of it negative.
“Obama, Romney, Paul Ryan, talking about it,” said Easley. “David Letterman, Jay Leno was ripping me, it was crazy.”
While the jokes might have been just for fun, there was also a different reaction far more serious.
“Death threats and the bomb threats and things like that, my family was exposed to that. I lost all my privacy,” said Easley.
It was a situation the self-proclaimed “regular guy” was totally unprepared for.
“I ended up getting on my knees and praying, and I just go, God I don’t know what’s going here and I just need help to get through this,” said Easley.
To help cope, he defended his call, appearing on several national news programs, such as the Today Show, CBS This Morning and The NFL Today.
Two weeks after the call, he was back on the field officiating, but far removed from Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. Instead, he was in Santa Maria, working at the 8-man level in the first-ever night-game at Valley Christian Academy.
“Stuff happens and it’s not what happens, it’s how you handle what happens and you just have to keep moving forward,” said Easley.
With the passage of time, he settled back into life. In 2013, he wrote a book called, Making The Call, Living With Your Decisions. However, in late 2013, his life changed again.
“Something started boiling up inside me, I don’t know what it was,” said Easley.
More than a year after the call, Easley says he was hit with with significant mental and chemical challenges. Doctors told him severe post traumatic stress disorder at the heart of it.
“It’s an invisible thing that people can’t see,” said Easley. “I think a lot of people don’t understand mental health issues and traumatic issues that go on and how deep they can be.”
His recovery required intense therapy and relocation to Los Angeles. During treatment, his job and marriage ended in Santa Maria. Now, three years later, he’s rebuilding his life, living in Culver City and working as a security consultant.
As coincidence would have it, his current residence is only a couple of hundred yards away the headquarters of the NFL Network. It’s a daily reminder of his short, but brief and memorable time in the league.
“That was not plan, that just happened and it is just the way circumstances are and is odd there it is right next to where I live,” said Easley. “I’d like to work there if they could give me a job, but there’s no painfulness about the whole thing at all. I don’t think in those terms. It’s all good”
Looking into the future, Easley says has a few media projects in the works, including a possible film, documentary and reality show.
“I have a story and I have a background in the arts and there’s some things happening with my story,” said Easley. “It could be a story that moves forward.”
It’s a story he hopes his provides inspiration and encouragement to others, to use as an example of survival through unexpected challenges everyone faces in life.
“Life is ever changing and in eight seconds, things can change just like that, and they do for people every day,” said Easley.
Life changed for dramatically for Easley on that fateful Monday night in Sept. 2012. It changed following one play out of thousands he’s called during his officiating career, on a call he still stands by.
“It’s the only call I could have done,” said Easley. “I ask people, I say tell me what else I could have done? I can’t change the call and the NFL upheld it. The replay guys couldn’t overturn it.”