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Much more attention was devoted to the catch itself, and much more scorn was heaped upon the officials because of it. In the days that followed, professional writers and amateurs like Brockman, the Microsoft employee, devoted acres of pixels to thin-slicing the play.
"I'm a Seahawks fan, but I pride myself on being objective," says Brockman. "Like everybody else I thought we had won on a bad call in our favor. Then I watched in slo-mo and started looking into all the pieces. Eventually, I concluded, I don't think this is a bad call at all."
The first ordinance addressed by Brockman and others who filed minority reports, was Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5: If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the [offense]. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.
Replays revealed that despite Jennings's superior position Tate actually got his left hand on the ball a fraction of a second before Jennings, and that the hand remained on the ball even as the two tumbled to the ground. It would matter not that Jennings clearly had "more" control if Tate, as the offensive player, had and maintained any at all.
The second centrally applicable rule had to do with the definition of a catch—and, more precisely, whether a player can fulfill its requirements with just one hand, as Tate clearly took his right hand off the ball for a moment. The rule book is not explicit on that point, although we have all seen plenty of circumstances in which a player has caught a ball one-handed. Months later Tate still insists that's what he did. "I thought I had it, and I'm sure Jennings thought he had it," he says.
From there, the requirements that Tate had to fulfill are as follows: Touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands (check); and maintain[s] control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground (check).
So, since Jennings clearly had at least jointly caught the ball, the crux of the matter was whether Tate had maintained control of the ball with his left hand—making it a catch by him too—or whether his hand was merely in contact with the ball.
It was the ultimate toss-up, one that would have given any official trouble no matter his experience. But Easley had the best view of it, and he thought Tate had never relinquished control. Repeated frame-by-frame viewings in the days and the weeks to follow did not dissuade him. "Golden Tate's hand and [some Packers players'] hands were on the ball simultaneously," Easley says. "Tate has to come to the ground and keep control through the process of the catch. And he did that."
But there was still one more step before the catch would be officially ruled a touchdown: Wayne Elliott's replay review. During the play Elliott was positioned 40 yards away, watching (as his job dictates) for roughing-the-passer and other behind-the-line infractions. By the time he turned his head, all he saw was Easley's raised arms—not Rhone-Dunn's signal—and all he heard was the crowd's joyous roar. So he did as he'd been trained. "A scoring play, on the last play of the game, so I headed toward the replay booth," he says. "That may have been wrong, not to have talked to the other guys, but I never went to them because I didn't know there was a controversy."
It may not have mattered. "If we had talked, I wouldn't have changed anything," confirms Easley.