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Tony Corrente was scheduled to referee Fail Mary game

failmaryFootball Zebras reported in September that referee Tony Corrente was originally scheduled for the Fail Mary game — the infamous 2012 Monday Night Football game between the Packers and the Seahawks. The league kept two sets of schedules through that season’s referee lockout, but without a resolution in the labor impasse, the league’s backup schedule of replacement officials kicked in for the Week 3 games.

After the rematch in Game 1 of the 2014 NFL season, the Packers and Seahawks face each other again in the last possible game for the two teams to meet, and, coincidentally, Corrente has been named the referee for the Conference Championship game. There is no way to know how Corrente would have ruled on the replay review of the fateful play, but there is little doubt that he would have been one of the most qualified. His assignment to Sunday’s game is his second Conference Championship game since the 2012 debacle. The side judge and back judge that would have worked the 2012 game are not assigned to this game, but each has been ranked in the top three of their respective positions since. Replay official Howard Slavin, who was deliberately re-routed from a subsequent Packers game assignment in 2012, is not the replay official for the championship game.

Below is a re-post of our September 4, 2014, story of the Fail Mary play.

Fail Mary was a failure beyond the field

Commentary by Ben Austro

failmary_pileThe play was one in a million. You could work the triple shifts in peewee right up through three decades in the NFL and still not see a simultaneous catch call like this (video).

The Packers-Seahawks meeting in 2012 was the end of the seventh full week of games, including the preseason, officiated by a collection of replacement officials who were no better than two rungs below the NFL — and many of them much lower. A labor impasse between the league office and the referees union was essentially stalled for weeks. The league locked out the officials preemptively to avoid a strike.

It started with Russell Wilson falling way back, trying to turn nothing into something. A desperate heave towards the end zone as time expired proved indecisive to the crew who gave mixed signals. Lance Easley, a side judge called up from junior college games, threw up a touchdown signal with some hesitation, only glancing at back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn, a retired veteran most recently with the Big 12 Conference. Rhone-Dunn hadn’t given a definitive signal either way, and neither of the covering officials seemed to communicate with each other. Referee Wayne Elliot went straight to a replay review without definitively stating the call that was decided on the field.

To his credit, Easley has owned his call — although, there really is no other choice — that most disagree with. He parlayed that one call into a book and public speaking gig as well. [Ed. note — According to an article by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports prior to the NFC Championship Game, Easley is separated from his wife and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.]

failmary_catch_cuBy rule simultaneous possession goes to the receiver. However, if the defense first secures control of the ball, the offense cannot get simultaneous possession merely by jointly possessing the ball; the offense must then fully secure it in its own right before getting a catch ruling. It happened fast, but Easley and Rhone-Dunn failed to see M.D. Jennings secure the ball for the Packers before Seahawks receiver Golden Tate even touched the ball. It is also clear that Easley was not fully versed in the rulebook of the league he was working for: he believed Jennings needed two feet down with sole control of the ball to win out a simultaneous possession ruling.

Elliot either involuntarily or by choice handed the decision over to replay official Howard Slavin (who was not a replacement official) and game supervisor Phil Luckett, according to Elliot’s later admission. (Typically, the supervisor is a passive observer and does not get involved in replay.) Slavin and Luckett determined there was no indisputable evidence, therefore, the catch by Tate should stand. It is not clear if they considered simultaneous possession a reviewable call in the context of a touchdown ruling.

The league also failed its fans, as it took more than half a day to respond to the play by releasing a statement that was attributed to no one in the league office, not even the vice president of officiating, Carl Johnson. But interwoven in the anonymous statement was essentially two dings on Easley: a missed offensive pass interference call that would have negated the play and a “support” of the catch call. In officials’ parlance, a vote of “support” means the office doesn’t grade you down for the call, but they don’t fully agree with it either. Instead of a thumbs up or down, it is more of a furrowed brow.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and his second-in-command Ray Anderson made the fatal assumption that the veteran officials were just replaceable cogs in the machinery of the NFL. Anderson admitted that the quality of the officiating would be less than the locked out officials, but it wouldn’t be much of a difference. It was rationalized that the union officials make mistakes, too.

The only thing that was decisive on this play was the league’s determination to settle the collective bargaining agreement before another game was played. Within two days a deal was reached, returning the officials to the field in less than a day.

Football Zebras has learned from two sources that a regular union crew was assigned in addition to a replacement crew for those games in 2012. The crew that would have called the game would have been headed by Tony Corrente. That places side judge Allen Baynes and Greg Wilson on the scene in an alternate universe.

Would they have ruled differently? There is no way to tell for certain, but we do know there would be three highly graded officials on the call. Since that fateful play, Baynes officiated in that season’s NFC Championship game and Corrente and Wilson worked last season’s AFC Conference Championship.

The failure of that play even extends to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as they have in their collection a relic of the replacement official era: the hat and flag of Shannon Eastin — an official that broke the gender barrier in the NFL under the lax hiring standards of a replacement official. Yet, there is not one official who enshrined in the Hall of Fame; officials, apparently, may only enter the Hall of Fame as long as they pay for a ticket at the door like everyone else.

Images: Ric Tapia/NFL

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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7 thoughts on “Tony Corrente was scheduled to referee Fail Mary game

  1. so what were the assignments going to be for actual officials for the 4 preseason weeks and the 3 regular season weeks?

  2. The league is totally to blame allowing games to be officiated by people not close to being up to speed for the NFL. And not paying them what the wanted despite being a billion $$$ empire. Pure greed by the league. I wonder if the Ref’s Union was behind that awful call in GB…..

  3. Wait, I don’t get it. Per your September article:

    Elliot either involuntarily or by choice handed the decision over to replay official Howard Slavin (who was not a replacement official) and game supervisor Phil Luckett, according to Elliot’s later admission… Slavin and Luckett determined there was no indisputable evidence, therefore, the catch by Tate should stand. It is not clear if they considered simultaneous possession a reviewable call in the context of a touchdown ruling.

    That sounds to me like Slavin and Luckett made the call, not Elliot. Slavin and Luckett were permanent NFL employees, not “replacement refs.” The NFL media has been demonizing the replacement referees ever since the lockout started, and the replacement referees were made to stand as scapegoats in the wake of this call… WHICH WASN’T EVEN MADE BY THEM. Lance Easley has a serious mental health condition as a result of the attacks on him.

    The issue in the labor dispute was that the union wanted to make it harder to fire poorly performing officials, and the league wanted to make it easier. Then, permanent league officials (not the replacements) screw up a call, and the replacement officials were the result of “lax hiring standards.” Forget about the hiring standards that let Phil Luckett, who actually made the call, wear the stripes from 1991 – 2007 or that got him hired as an officiating supervisor following his career. (By the way, the reason we have instant replay in the modern NFL is because Luckett screwed up the Vinny Testaverde non-touchdown in 1998.)

    Also, way to gloss over the fact that the reason that the officials were from two rungs below the NFL is because the heads of officiating for the NCAA’s Division I conferences were largely NFL officials, who refused to let NCAA DI officials work in pro games specifically so they could pressure the NFL. This was widely known in 2012.

    Sure, complain about Eastin, Easley, Elliot, and lax hiring standards. Call it puzzling when John Parry doesn’t get a postseason assignment. Watch this play, which resulted in no ejections, even though several players from both teams deserved it.

    Those weren’t the replacement guys. That was Parry’s crew of normal officials. That’s why Parry’s working the Pro Bowl.

    The normal NFL officials aren’t perfect. They screw up sometimes too. And as you admit in the 2012 piece, there’s no way to know how Tony Corrente would have called the Fail Mary. But you reprint a piece with a flawed thesis defending regular officials and attacking the replacements, even though it wasn’t the replacements who screwed up the call.

    It’s also in poor taste to reprint the piece because it casts aspersions on Easley for making money off the call via the book and public speaking deal that he had in its aftermath because you know (according to the editor’s note) that things aren’t really sunshine and roses for Lance Easley. That’s horrible, and you guys should know better.

    This site goes out of its way to reflexively defend NFL officials, even when they’re 100% wrong. NFL officials, not the replacements, were wrong in the Fail Mary game. Here’s hoping that they won’t be wrong today.

  4. Jmac…you are SO RIGHT!!! The regular officials are greedy and have made FAR WORSE calls the past 2 seasons (and weeks) than the replacements did. How come nobody reports on all the great games the replacements worked from which there were NO media reports of problems or issues? The “Fail Mary,” what a ridiculous name. Hey Green Bay, as Tom Landry said once after a close loss after a questionable (regular) official’s call,” don’t be in a position where an offiicial’s call can determine the outcoem of the game.”

  5. I doubt that call would have been made if Corrente and the regulars were all working, I very much believe the lockout had everything to do with it…

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