Chargers beat Packers 21-13 in preseason opener
SAN DIEGO Two San Diego players sought her out for a handshake and a few words of encouragement. Their coach, Norv Turner, took the time to take a photo with her.
Once the game started, it was almost as if Shannon Eastin wasn’t there — the ultimate compliment for an official.
Keeping her poise amid the oversized players and the bright lights, Eastin made history by becoming the first woman to officiate an NFL game in the Chargers’ 21-13 preseason victory over the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.
“That’s probably the best thing, that it went as usual,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I thought for the most part, things went as normal.”
The preseason opener for both teams was predictably sloppy at times, filled with fumbles, interceptions and missed assignments.
Rivers had a touchdown, an interception and a fumble in limited action for the Chargers (No. 16 in the AP Pro32). Rookie Jarrett Lee got most of the snaps, throwing for 235 yards and a touchdown.
Aaron Rodgers had an interception and a fumble in three series for the Packers (No. 1).
“We didn’t play as well as we want to, but it’s preseason,” Rodgers said.
Eastin turned it into a history-making event merely with her presence.
Among a group of replacement officials working games while the regular refs are locked out, Eastin was dwarfed by the players on San Diego’s sideline and had a camera following her every move before the game.
A 16-year officiating veteran, she seemed at ease with the spotlight, staying steady among the giants and the national attention.
After Turner took a picture with her for posterity’s sake, Chargers tackle Jeromey Clary and linebacker Antwan Barnes each shook her hand and said a few words before the opening kickoff.
“I think it’s exciting for her,” Turner said. “She was confident and in control.”
Eastin’s game cap is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after her first NFL game.
Many of the players still need some work after their first preseason performances.
Rodgers fumbled on Green Bay’s first series, setting up a 23-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates. Green Bay’s Diondre Borel fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Chargers recovered, but Tramon Williams stepped in front of Robert Meacham to intercept Rivers’ pass two plays later.
The Chargers also lost a fumble on a handoff exchange between Rivers and Michael Hayes on the first play of the next series.
Rivers was 3 for 5 for 37 yards and was done after his fumble.
Rodgers threw for 16 yards on 2 of 8 passing.
Worse yet were some key injuries.
Green Bay entered the game with 18 players not in uniform and most were because of injuries, including receiver Greg Jennings and left tackle Marshall Newhouse.
The list grew longer early in the first quarter, when starting linebacker Desmond Bishop went down after a group of players fell on his right leg while he was finishing a tackle. He was unable to put any weight on his leg while being helped to the sideline.
The Chargers lost starting running back Ryan Mathews after he broke his collarbone on his first carry of the preseason. He’s scheduled to have surgery on Friday and is expected to be out 4 to 6 weeks.
“It’s disappointing,” Rivers said. “You hate it for him, first of all, and then obviously it affects the team. It’s just unfortunate — first carry of the season — but he’ll still bounce back and have a great year.”
Replacement officials are working games for the first time in 11 years and have 16 this weekend, including six Thursday night. There have already been some shaky moments.
The crew working the Hall of Fame game on Sunday had mixed reviews and fans in Buffalo booed replacement officials Thursday night after they missed a touchback call in a game against Washington. The play was challenged and overturned.
Eastin didn’t seem to have any trouble in her first NFL game.
The 42-year-old from Tempe, Ariz., is a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, college football’s second-highest level, and owns a company that trains basketball and football officials.
Wearing No. 27 on the back of her official’s uniform, Eastin wasn’t involved in many calls until flagging San Diego’s Patrick Doyle for holding in the third quarter. She heard a few boos from the hometown crowd in the fourth period on a pass interference call on Chargers safety Corey Lynch — she appeared to get it right — and signaled touchdown when Green Bay’s Marc Tyler scored on a 1-yard run. Green Bay failed on the 2-point conversion, keeping the Chargers up 14-13.
Eastin signaled TD again when Brinkley scored later, but had a relatively quiet night overall, which, in the world of officiating, can be a good thing.
“I thought she communicated well,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Eastin joins a small group of women to crack the officiating ranks at the highest levels of sports.
Violet Palmer, one of Eastin’s inspirations, began officiating NBA games in 1997 and is still in the league.
Bernice Gera became the first woman to work in baseball’s minor leagues, serving as an umpire in a New York-Penn League game in 1972.
Pam Postema umpired major league spring training games in 1989 and, thanks to a push by commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, made it up to Triple-A for six seasons. She was fired a few months after Giamatti’s death, filed a sex discrimination suit against baseball and settled out of court 5 1/2 years later.
The locked-out NFL Referees Association said earlier Thursday that Eastin should be barred from working any league games because she once participated in the World Series of Poker. Should she be hired permanently, Eastin would be barred from such events in the future as part of the NFL’s gambling policy.
Even if she isn’t, Eastin proved she has the chops to handle the rigors of the NFL.