RENTON, Wash. — This story involves a rookie quarterback, a banker turned NFL replacement official, a touchdown that should not have been and actor Cary Elwes.
Yes, the actor from satirical classics “The Princess Bride” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” But we’ll get back to him later.
It’s been nearly two full years since the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks met in the regular season, a game that was noted for stifling defense on both sides, until the final play of the game.
With the clock winding down, Russell Wilson — then a rookie in his third NFL game — scrambled and lofted a desperation pass from Green Bay’s 39-yard line into the end zone. After the officials ruled that Golden Tate had scored, the play instantly became known as “The Fail Mary,” and within days the NFL settled its labor dispute with referees.
“There’s been all kinds of games. I can go all the way back to coaching in college when we won from 85 yards away with no time left on the clock and it was a Hail Mary catch-and-run and all that kind of stuff,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “So, those things happen. It’s what makes us keep coming back. We love the games. We watch so much because of the surprise and the uniqueness of the experience all the time.”
The Seahawks prevailed 14-12 after Tate wrested the ball from Green Bay’s secondary. It was signaled as a touchdown by replacement official Lance Easley, claiming that Tate gained simultaneous possession with Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings. The play was reviewed, and the call on the field was upheld.
Lives immediately changed.
Two days after the call, the NFL reached a new contract with its officials, and the replacements were gone.
Easley, who later wrote a book centered on his touchdown decision, became and remains the target of angry Packers fans. His rarely used Twitter account this week was filled with messages from Packers fans asking if he would be making any calls in Seattle’s favor during Thursday’s opener.
And Tate was vilified. In addition to grabbing the ball away, many fans felt he committed a blatant offensive pass interference penalty against defensive back Sam Shields.
“What I remember from it is my life changing,” Tate said this week in Detroit, where he was preparing for his first game with the Lions. “All of a sudden I went from just Golden Tate, the Seattle Seahawk, to household name. Regardless of how you think of my name, everyone knows it I guess now at this point, which is a good thing and a bad thing sometimes.”
And what did Aaron Rodgers, the Packers quarterback who walked off the field in a daze of disbelief, remember about the final play and the aftermath?
“I was in the locker room and I was watching it up on the TV, the replay back, and I turned around and there was my buddy, the star of one of my favorite movies, Cary Elwes of Princess Bride, in the locker room,” Rodgers recalled. “That put a smile on my face at a time where there wasn’t many other things I would have done there.”
Maybe Elwes can star in a madcap comedy about the play, where nothing went as planned.
It started at the snap. Trying to get the final play snapped from the 24-yard line, Wilson and the offensive line had confusion on the blocking call. Wilson scrambled backward, buying time before eventually lofting the pass into the left-corner of the end zone.
Tate shoved Shields to the ground as the ball fell, but the referees didn’t call a penalty. Tate wrestled with Jennings for possession and Easley signaled touchdown while another official next to him did not signal a score.
The video review was lengthy and the conclusion of the game was delayed nearly 10 minutes after the teams went to the locker room, then had to be retrieved for the extra point.
“I thought it was an interception to tell you the truth,” said new Seattle defensive tackle Kevin Williams, then with Minnesota. “From the outside looking in it looked like an interception but somehow he got his hands in there and they called it. Tie goes to the offense, right? It’s history now.”
And that’s exactly how the Packers view the play. They insist there is no additional motivation for Thursday’s opener because of what happened the last time they visited the Pacific Northwest.
“We know it happened but, I mean, it’s something that we really don’t think about, we don’t talk about. I mean, I don’t think it really matters around here anymore,” Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams said. “It’s just something that happened then. It was unfortunate, but it happened.”