When he was 25, he mostly gave up drinking and began attending a Bible study, where one evening an 18-year-old Mexican immigrant named Corina walked in. He told her about the day his mother left his dad a note, telling him goodbye; she told him about her father’s death and her family’s move across the border.
He found comfort in her warmth and compassion. She admired his ability to see things simply, in black and white. On their third date, Lance picked up the check for the first time and proposed marriage.
“I’m a closer,” he says with a smile.
Corina noticed that Lance seemed happiest when he was officiating. He was healthier, more vibrant. There was purpose in those signals she couldn’t understand, something that had been missing in Lance’s life. She says officiating has been a blessing for him.
This past summer, Easley stood at the fax machine, considering what his friend had said on the golf course and what this opportunity represented. He saw it as a chance not only to experience greatness but to bring its lessons back to Santa Maria, where he’s president of the Los Padres Basketball Officials Association. Then he prayed.
“I had a peace about it,” he says.
He sent the paperwork but maintained muted expectations. He had worked junior college games only for a few seasons, after giving up coaching. At his core, Easley was a high school official, refereeing sometimes but usually preferring the role of back judge.
Then the e-mail came. Get to Atlanta for a tryout. They ran five miles, underwent a background check and labored through tests of their knowledge and judgment. Easley had studied the rules like never before, but in the officiating game, making a split-second judgment call, such as with pass interference, is the real test. Officials dread the day a decision affects a game’s outcome.
Easley passed the first leg, moving on to Dallas for training and uniform fitting. The NFL game is different than in high school and college, and this was a crash course in the variations, the speed, the pressure.
Easley kept waiting. Then another e-mail arrived. When the preseason contests began, he’d get $2,000 per game. If the ride continued into the regular season, the stipend increased to $3,000. He would be a side judge, not a back judge, as he had been used to. Regardless, Easley wanted only one game, to walk onto a field wearing the NFL stripes.
The good news, though, came with a hangover. In late July, Easley received another e-mail, this one from the Southern California Football Association, which had overseen his college officiating and had learned that he’d applied as a replacement NFL official.