“As an official, you want to get it to the top level, the big game in town,” said Peek, 62, who lost his position as a replacement official when the league and the referees’ union agreed to a new labor deal Wednesday night. “We got to the top game with ‘Monday Night Football.’ It was the only game in town.”
After a three-month lockout, the NFL’s regular officials returned to the field Thursday night in Baltimore for the Ravens game against the Cleveland Browns, bringing some semblance of normalcy back to the sport. Meanwhile, more than 100 replacement officials, referees and linesmen who’d donned the black and white stripes and faced boos from coast to coast, returned to their lives, trying to find some normalcy of their own.
Peek’s final NFL contest will stand as one of the season’s most memorable. In the final seconds, the Seahawks, trailing by five points, heaved a pass toward the end zone, where the side judge missed a pass interference call. The Packers appeared to intercept the ball, but the officials instead awarded Seattle with the game-winning touchdown.
As the line judge, Peek wasn’t in the end zone when the call was made. But the result left a bitter taste in his mouth all the same.
“When it goes to the end and it ended so ugly, I was more disappointed that we didn’t live up to what I wanted us to live up to,” Peek said by telephone Thursday, the lone official from the crew to speak publicly. “I wanted us to go out close to a 300 game, as a bowler would. You always strive to bowl 300, you always strive for perfection. I thought we were doing well until right there late in the game. I was just disappointed that we didn’t bowl a 300 game.”
The NFL’s replacement officials were recruited this spring and tasked with policing some of the fastest, most physical athletes on the planet. Their résumés were mixed. Some, like Peek, had worked top-level college games. Others threw yellow flags at middle-school games and in the Lingerie Football League, a women’s outfit in which the players compete in revealing clothing.
Regardless of the officials’ level of experience or expertise, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, said during a conference call with reporters Thursday that mistakes and errors of judgement have always been a part of the game.