GREEN BAY – When the Green Bay Packers play the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night, many fans will be thinking back to the last Packers game in Seattle two seasons ago.
The Seahawks won, 14-12, because in part of what has been called one of the NFL’s most embarrassing moments. The game was officiated by replacement referees.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone on the game’s final play.
Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings both had their hands on the ball. One official called it a touchdown, while the referee standing next to him signaled time-out.
It was ultimately ruled a touchdown, and the Seahawks won the game. The play, which many call the “Fail Mary,” provoked and still provokes strong reactions from Packers players and fans.
Current Packers players said they’ve moved on and are focused on beating the Seahawks Thursday night in the opening game of the NFL season.
But nearly two years later, it’s not just the call that lives on in Packers history. People remember what happened after the game.
“It’s awful,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, while walking off the field in Seattle. “It’s awful. If you call that (expletive) it’s awful.”
“Don’t ask me a question about the officials,” said head coach Mike McCarthy, during his post-game press conference. “So we’ll just cut to the chase right there.”
The NFL and its regular officials were in a labor dispute. The league stood by the call, but two days after the game a deal was reached to end the lockout.
You don’t have to go far from Lambeau Field to see a reminder of the play.
A restaurant called The Blind Ref opened eight months ago. It’s named for the replacement referee who made the call, and right next to the counter is a large picture of that memorable moment.
“I would say 90 percent of the people that come in, conversation is about the picture itself and then how we came up with the name,” said manager Mike Demuth.
Packers fans at Lambeau Field Wednesday easily recalled how that Monday Night Football match-up ended.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Dianne Birkholz of Waupun.
“The refs blew it,” said John Bett of Waupun.
The play gets a lot of attention. But Cliff Christl, the Packers’ team historian said it wasn’t the first time a referee cost the green and gold a win.
Ninety-five years ago in the Packers’ first season, the team lost 6-0 playing on the road against the Beloit Fairies. According to a Green Bay newspaper, a referee from Beloit made some crucial calls to favor the home team.
“Beloit scored its winning touchdown after time expired in the first half,” said Christl. “He gave them a final play from the one-yard line. Then he overruled two touchdowns in the second half.”
Christl said Packers co-founder George Whitney Calhoun carried that game with him until he died 44 years later. Christl isn’t sure if the “Fail Mary” will live in memories for quite that long.
“I don’t know if it will live in memory quite as long as that did for a lot of the people who were involved,” he said. “But you’re right, they see it from so many angles, read so much about it today. You know in 1919, the Packers were playing in a vacant lot.”
Meanwhile, The Blind Ref hopes to capitalize on the moment.
“Can’t get it back, can’t take it back, so just go with the flow and call it The Blind Ref,” said Demuth.
Christl also said the Packers have benefited from mistakes by officials, including a 1965 game between the Packers and Baltimore Colts.
The Packers tied the game late in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard field goal. Video replays appear to show the ball sailed wide right of the upright.
The kick sent the game to overtime, and the Packers won 13-10. After that season, the NFL re-designed its goalposts and required officials to stand directly under each upright on field-goal attempts.