Three years later, Lance Easley still receives email from people who say they want him to die.
"I got one just the other day to my web site," said Easley, the most famous replacement official in NFL history. "It said basically that while I might have gotten the call right, they still hoped I would die of a heart attack."
Easley spoke Tuesday morning from his home near Los Angeles, hours after another officiating controversy had erupted within a few feet of where he made his last NFL call. It was Easley, of course, who ruled that receiver Golden Tate had caught a game-winning touchdown in the 2012 "Fail Mary" game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The NFL ended a lockout of its permanent officials two days later, sending Easley on a downward spiral from which he is only beginning to emerge.
The latest target of officiating criticism is NFL back judge Gregory Wilson, who missed an illegal bat penalty that would have overturned a Detroit Lions fumble and given them the ball at the Seahawks' 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Seahawks gained possession and ran out the clock in a 13-10 victory.
Easley once worked with Wilson in the Southern California Collegiate Football Officials Association and said he plans to reach out to offer his support. Because when fans decide that an official missed a call, as Easley well knows, the reaction can be brutal. These days, Easley spends much of his time trying to humanize the perception of officiating in sports.
In addition to working on a movie adaptation of his book, "Making the Call," Easley is pitching a reality show that would follow high-school-level officials during a season. Though some might consider his continued public presence an attempt to exploit and monetize a controversy, Easley says his journey has been too serious to consider in such terms.
"I don't hate anybody as a result of my experience and I really don't get any gratification in seeing people make a mistake," he said. "What I know is that officiating is a tough, tough, tough job. That's why I want to tell my story. I want people to have a little more empathy for what these people do. There is a level of human fallibility in all of us. When you look at any officiating stats, you know that they get nine out of 10 calls right. Mistakes are a part of life."
Easley revealed in a January interview with Yahoo! Sports that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the time since the Fail Mary game. He contemplated suicide, he said, but on Tuesday said he is "so much better now" after months of therapy and medication.
Easley no longer officiates and instead finds work as a motivational speaker and actor. He has retained his sense of humor, joking after a recent case of identity theft, "Who would want to be me?" But he is serious about bringing more awareness to the tone and attitude used to condemn sports officials after taking so long to recover from the way it impacted him.
"People are always going to criticize and be criticized," he said. "You know that's part of the deal. But look at my case. I actually made the right call. I know people don't want to admit it, but the NFL upheld my call on the possession and you still never, ever see offensive pass interference called on Hail Mary plays. So I made the right call based on everything that was out there, and I still, three years later, have people hoping I die. That's just not the way it should be."
No, it should not. Officials are third-party administrators of game action. Gregory Wilson didn't lose Monday night's game for the Lions any more than did receiver Calvin Johnson whose fumble set the entire sequence in motion. Of course, players don't deserve vile criticism or death threats any more than officials. Sometimes, it's important to remember there is a real person -- one who has made mistakes and will continue to make them -- behind everything we see in a game.