RENTON, Wash. – Saying "I'll go to my grave" with regret, NFL referee Bill Leavy reopened a Seahawks' wound that won't heal by acknowledging he made mistakes in Seattle's disputed, 2006 Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The veteran official began an annual training-camp rules interpretation session with the Seattle media after practice on Friday by bringing up the sore subject without being asked.
"It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that," said the veteran of 15 NFL seasons and two Super Bowls.
"It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly," Leavy said of the game in February 2006. "I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better."
Though Seattle played one of its poorest games of an otherwise wondrous season that day, several key calls went against the Seahawks in their 21-10 loss to the Steelers. It remains Seattle's only Super Bowl appearance.
This week is the first time since that game Leavy has been in Seattle with the Seahawks. He and a mini-crew arrived Thursday to help with the team's practices and give it a rules presentation.
Leavy didn't specify which plays he "kicked" that big day in Detroit.
But there are two late ones that people still talk about in Seattle — with disdain they usually reserve for cold, weak coffee.
Early in the fourth quarter, tackle Sean Locklear was called for holding on a pass completion that would have put the Seahawks at the Pittsburgh 1, poised for the go-ahead touchdown. After the penalty, Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception, and then was called for a mysterious low block on a play that ended with him tackling Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor on the defensive back's return.
The penalty moved the Steelers from their 29 to the 44. Pittsburgh used its better field position to score the clinching touchdown four plays later.
The next day, then-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren stoked Seattle's angry fire when he addressed fans upon the team landing back home. Holmgren told frustrated fans at a civic gathering at Qwest Field, "I knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts, as well."
Holmgren, now a top executive with the Cleveland Browns, has since said he's gotten over that game.
But Leavy hasn't.
"I know that I did my best at that time, but it wasn't good enough," said the retired police officer and firefighter in San Jose, Calif., who became an NFL referee in 2001. "When we make mistakes, you got to step up and own them. It's something that all officials have to deal with, but unfortunately when you have to deal with it in the Super Bowl it's difficult."
When high-profile referee Ed Hochuli visited the Seahawks' training camp in the months after that Super Bowl, he and his crew took good-natured ribbing from players.
"The Super Bowl was one of those games where it seemed the big calls went against Seattle," Hochuli said in August 2006. "And that was just fortuitous — bad fortuitous for Seattle.
"The league felt, actually, that the Super Bowl was well officiated. Now, that doesn't mean there were no mistakes. There are always mistakes, but it was a well-officiated game."