The Fail Mary

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Posted: October 15, 2017


On September 24, 2012, the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks battled in a regular season NFL game, which ended in the kind of controversy that is rarely seen in the league. With a referee lockout having hit the league hard, the NFL had brought in replacement refs to officiate during that week’s round. The Seahawks found themselves trailing the Packers 12-7 with a few seconds left in the game, and with the final play of the game, QB Russell Wilson threw a pass towards wide receiver Golden Tate in the Packers’ end zone. Tate and Packers defender M. Jennings both got their hands on the ball at the same time.

The two officials watching the play initially gave contrasting decisions before referee Lance Easley indicated that it was a touchdown. This gave the Seahawks a 14-12 win, but the decision was heavily contested after the game and was one of the factors that led to the end of the referee lockout. The contentious play was nicknamed the “Fail Mary” among other creative names.

Build-up to the Fail Mary Game

After the 2005 collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFL Referees Association expired in 2011, it was expected that new terms would be drawn immediately between the two parties. However, the 2011 NFL lockout complicated matters, delaying contract discussions deep into 2012. Reportedly, the bone of contention was the nature of pensions that the NFL gave the referees, with the referees looking for a defined benefit plan where they would receive a fixed amount of pension income based on length of employment.

Having failed to reach an agreement with the 2012 season opening looming, the referee association withdrew their services in June 2012. The NFL resorted to hiring replacement referees from high school, college and amateur football leagues. Coming into the game, there were already questions about the quality of refereeing that the replacement referees were offering and this may have contributed to the added scrutiny that Easley’s call would receive.

The Play Unfolds

With 8 seconds remaining in the game the Seahawks were trailing 12-7 and had possession on the Packers’ 24 yard line. Rookie quarterback Russell Williams threw a Hail Mary pass towards the Packers’ end zone in the hope that one Seahawks player would get it and come down with it. Wide Receiver Golden Tate was in a sea of Packers defenders and as the full pack leapt to reach the ball, Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings both simultaneously got hold of the ball and maintained contact as they went to ground.

In a comedic moment, two officials, side judge Lance Easley and back judge Derrick Rhone Dunn who were standing side by side over the play gave two separate decisions. Dunn waved his hand to indicate stoppage of the clock while Easley raised his arms to signal a touchdown. After a review of instant replays, it was determined that Easley had made the correct choice. The dejected Packers ran into the dressing room but were mandated by game officials to return to the field for the Seahawks’ conversion attempt. With the clock having winded down, the Seahawks took a 14-12 win.

Aftermath of the Hail Mary

After the game, the NFL upheld the decision to award the Seahawks a touchdown because in the rulebook, a simultaneous catch between two opposing players results in possession for the passers. Easley also defended his touchdown decision three days later and his decision not to call an interception on Tate. Whether Easley was correct or not, the outcry that resulted from the Hail Mary decision is believed to have forced the league to accelerate talks with the Referee Association. Two days after the game, the two parties reached an agreement, leading to the end of the drawn-out strike by the referees.

After the game, the NFL upheld the decision to award the Seahawks a touchdown because in the rulebook, a simultaneous catch between two opposing players results in possession for the passers. Easley also defended his touchdown decision three days later and his decision not to call an interception on Tate. Whether Easley was correct or not, the outcry that resulted from the Hail Mary decision is believed to have forced the league to accelerate talks with the Referee Association. Two days after the game, the two parties reached an agreement, leading to the end of the drawn-out strike by the referees.

 

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