Once Elliott was under the hood, he and Howard Slavin, an NFL replay official since the current system's inception in 1999, reviewed only two camera angles: the main TV feed and another from the far sideline. "I told Howard, 'That second view actually has a little more argument for the Seattle player,'" Elliott remembers. "And he said, 'There's nothing in here we can use to reverse the call.' We had been taught that these replay guys, you pretty much just do what they say." Elliott trotted back onto the field and raised his arms.
"I'm just making a call, like I've been making calls for 35 years," says Elliott, a longtime small-college official in Texas. "I'm not thinking it's something the world's never going to forget."
In the nearly four-month span of the NFL referee lockout, Elliott's crew worked seven games together—four preseason, three regular season—but saw only one team twice: the Green Bay Packers. "Before the game that night in Seattle, Aaron Rodgers came up to me and called me by name. He said, 'We're glad to see you here tonight; you're the best crew we've had,'" Elliott recalls. "I said, 'I hope you say that when the night is over.'"
Rodgers would not say anything like that after the mess that ensued—Seahawks coach Pete Carroll conducting his postgame interview on the field, before the extra point was even kicked; stunned Packers players returning from the locker room for that kick, half-undressed, having to reclaim their helmets from field-side storage bins. Few positive words were uttered in the officials' locker room immediately afterward either. "If you've ever played and lost a game, nobody says anything," recalls Elliott. "Phil Luckett [the former NFL referee who was on-site supervising the crew] was making sure it was quiet. Derrick said, 'I still had fun!' Luckett gave him the shush signal. I haven't talked to Derrick since that night." (Rhone-Dunn declined to speak to SI for this story.)
The play affected Tate's life, to a degree. "It's weird to one night be able to walk down the street and mind your own business and the next day people are like, Hey, it was a catch! It wasn't a catch! That was PI! ... looking at me, whispering," he says. "All I did is compete. If it happens again, I'm going to fight for the ball and try to get it."
For the second-leading receiver on a surging team, there would be many more chances to replace Otto Greule's image with new ones in the public's memory. But for the officials that day, it's a different story. Easley tried to return seamlessly to his regular life—he works as a banker—but that was difficult with TV vans staked out at his home, his phone buzzing incessantly with threats. "This was Green Bay, and thankfully Packers fans aren't that out of control," says Easley. "I'd have been more concerned if it was the Raiders. They're closer; right down the street."
It is equally difficult for Easley to come to terms with the fact that while the NFL rolls on, he will forever be remembered as one of the sport's goats—particularly difficult because he didn't necessarily do anything wrong and officiating is in his blood. His 76-year-old father, Roy (who once recorded country and western music under the name Hoodoo Fudgearound), taught the discipline for years at Cal Poly--Pomona, and his 25-year-old son, Daniel, is a seasoned football and basketball referee. "People will always associate my name with a bad thing," says Easley. "And for what? I'm an official. That's what I do. I officiate. There was a need for officials. And I officiated."
Elliott, who works as a real estate agent in Austin, has a more Zen outlook on the experience. "It's not something I think about," he says. "It's just something I did. It just happened." Although he had been assured that he would be able to return to his gig refereeing in Texas's D-II Lone Star Conference, Elliott lost that job, at least for 2012. The network of officials runs even deeper than he had realized: His supervisor is a Big 12 referee, whose supervisor, in turn, is Walt Anderson, a two-time Super Bowl official. Elliott has returned to calling high school games—it is playoff time in Texas—and harbors no regrets. "I would do it all again in a heartbeat," he says. "It was the absolute biggest thrill of my life. I was making $225 a game in D-II football, without a travel allowance. I loved that. I would have done it forever. But if I had to sacrifice that to work seven weeks in the NFL? Man, it was amazing."
Easley is not so certain he'd do it again. "If I knew it was going to end like that, probably not," he says. "But I don't know." After his experience he had planned to lie low, to take the rest of the season off from the game altogether. But officials get sick, and they get injured, and soon he was back in stripes, on high school fields in California. "They were so thin that they needed me," he says. "That happens all over the country. It's a very, very difficult thing to get really good people."