With a 17-year career that has featured three Super Bowls, eight divisional games, five wild-card contests and one conference championship game, Laird Hayes has had some great moments as a side judge in the NFL.
But the greatest time in his career came Sunday, when the Newport Beach resident made the right call on the biggest play on the biggest stage.
During the New York Giants' game-winning drive, quarterback Eli Manning launched a bomb toward the sideline to receiver Mario Manningham.
Hayes kept the play in front of him and called a catch, after he watched Manningham bring in the ball for a 38-yard reception with New England's Sterling Moore and Patrick Chung on the wideout.
"That is the summit of my career," said Hayes, a former men's soccer coach at Orange Coast College, where he teaches part time. "To get the Super Bowl assignment and to have that happen is totally unbelievable."
We have the benefit of replay on TV and can see easier, in slow motion, that Manningham indeed made the catch. That makes it difficult to appreciate the type of call Hayes made. It was incredibly impressive.
Mike Pereira, the former head of NFL officials, wrote a column for Fox sports, saying it was Hayes' greatest call of his career. The headline of the story: Greatest call in Super Bowl history?
It was definitely one of the greatest. It was certainly the best call of the game. Truly remarkable.
During the play, Hayes said everything seemed to slow down. Hayes took his time and remembered what his mentors taught him: to watch the whole play.
When Manning threw the ball, Hayes watched Manningham.
"You don't watch the ball, it'll eventually get there," Hayes said.
He saw that Manningham and Moore weren't doing anything illegal.
"The ball comes in and you take your eyes off the ball and you look at the feet and then the ball," Hayes said. "I saw two feet in and I go right to the ball and make sure he had possession of it. I went to the ball, he had it."
Hayes said he wasn't surprised New England Coach Bill Belichick asked to challenge the call. The ruling was confirmed. The Giants went on to win the game, 21-17. The congratulatory calls, texts and emails came Hayes' way.
He said he received nearly 400 messages. It was a special day for Hayes, who had his wife Maggie, son Andy, and daughter Katie, at the game.
Hayes said it was surprising and a blessing to be assigned a third Super Bowl.
The NFL officials are ranked throughout the season after each game. Usually, an official is assigned the Super Bowl if he finishes with a top-five ranking and has never worked the big game. The only thing that trumps that is if an official finishes No. 1 two straight years.
Hayes does not know his ranking last season because they weren't issued, but this season he was No. 1. He figured he was No. 1 last year too because he got the Super Bowl assignment.
"After 2004 I never thought I would get another one of these," Hayes said. "It was just a magical year."
Hayes was also featured on SportsCenter on ESPN Monday morning. John Buccigross said Hayes made the best decision of the game.
"He went to Princeton. He's wicked smart," Buccigross said of Hayes in a Boston accent.
Pereira began his story with: The Super Bowl MVP? In my world, it has to be Laird Hayes.
Did you hear anyone talk about bad officiating after the game?
Hayes credited head referee John Parry for a great game for the officials.
That's the way Parry and his crew wanted it. Hayes said, Parry told the crew to prepare for the unexpected.
Hayes was ready.
"That's how you want to finish the season," Hayes said.