Substitute refs. A game filled with penalties. A baby-faced quarterback named Aaron Rodgers who was sacked by a relentless Seattle defense eight times in the first half alone. There was a certain first-round pick named Bruce Irvin. A rookie quarterback named Russell Wilson.
Last but not least, there was one of the most infamous calls made in modern professional football history.
All of this refers, of course, to what has become known as the “Fail Mary” game, which ESPN recently aired.
It was a fascinating look into the past. If you didn’t see it, scour your on-demand and DVR listings. The game was played in Seattle in September, 2012, and the Seahawks beat the Packers, 14-12.
Remember, 2012 was a different Seattle. Amazon was still a company up on the hill. Parking was plentiful. Housing was, if not cheap, at least somewhat affordable. Seattle was still coming out of the recession at that point.
The Seahawks were very different. Just a couple of months earlier, newish head coach Pete Carroll was trying to decide who would start under center. There was placeholder starter, Tarvaris Jackson (RIP), who started during the previous season. There was a guy named Matt Flynn. And then there was Wilson, who many in Seattle thought was too short and even at the time of the Fail Mary game would presumably have still been questioning his value. Remember, this was only a few games into the season.
In rewatching this game, you will clearly see the seeds of the future Super Bowl-winning team. There was Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and many other familiar names. There was, of course, a guy named Golden Tate.
As mentioned, the Seahawks defense was outstanding that night. The look on Rodgers’ face said it all. The Packers just couldn’t get anything going.
Unfortunately, neither could the Seahawks. It was a mostly painful game to watch, not that you would know that from the 12th Man, who looked every bit as enthusiastic as they ever do in the stands. Remember, these are the people that caused an “earthquake.” They don’t do apathetic. Ever.
Also, keep in mind that this game took place during the referee lockout of 2012. The Fail Mary game was the final contest using “substitute” refs, for lack of a better term. To take it one step further, the ruling on the Fail Mary play itself may have been the tipping point that caused the league and the referee’s union to reach a deal and get the regular refs back on the field the following week.
What happened during the play? It was quite simple. It was also very comical. At least as long as you’re not a Packer Backer, a Cheesehead, or a stakeholder in that community-owned team from Green Bay.
Basically, in the final drive of the game, with less than a minute on the clock and no timeouts, Wilson loaded up and went for broke on four downs in a row. The first three missed, of course. On the fourth, he “connected” with Golden Tate in the corner of the endzone.
There were what looked like an army of Packers who all went vertical at the same time as Tate. It was like a choreographed performance where a group of friends all jump in the air simultaneously to record a selfie.
The two most pertinent players were Packers’ defensive back M.D. Jennings and Seahawks receiver Tate. They both “caught” the ball at the same time and waged what felt like a thirty-minute war for control of the ball on the way back down to terra firma.
In an iconic moment, two referees ran over and one held his arms straight up to indicate a touchdown, while the other one was waving his arms back and forth to indicate the exact opposite.
The next twenty minutes was a circus. Players left the field, thinking the game was over. The refs then called them back out to kick an extra point, but they couldn’t find their helmets.
Seahawk fans and players alike were ecstatic. It really is very entertaining to watch again after all these years.
I had a very surreal experience as I sat there watching it a few nights ago. I realized I was sitting in the exact same place I had been during the game in 2012, on my couch. The weather now, like then, was balmy, and I had a small window open behind my head to let in the evening air.
And then, I remembered. When that play happened in 2012, I could hear the neighborhood and the city erupt in a cacophony of sounds. Voices yelling. Horns honking. Fireworks. Maybe a few gunshots.
This time there were none of those sounds, but my imagination was able to fill in the blanks. And man, was that a glorious feeling.