Eastin breaks NFL’s on-field gender barrier

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SAN DIEGO (AP) - Shannon Eastin earned her stripes by receiving the ultimate officials’ compliment: It was almost as if she wasn’t there.

Just being there earned her a place in history.

Unflappable among the oversized players and in the spotlight, Eastin became the first woman to officiate an NFL game Thursday night, serving as the line judge for a seven-man crew working the preseason opener between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers.

“She was confident and in control,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said.

Wearing No. 27 on the back of her official’s uniform and her hair tucked under the back of her cap, Eastin was dwarfed by the players as she lined up in front of San Diego’s sideline and had a camera following nearly every move before the game.

The 42-year-old from Tempe, Ariz., seemed at ease, though, taking a photo with Turner before the game and shaking hands with at least two players before the opening kickoff.

Though she wasn’t involved in many calls until late, Eastin remained steady while breaking the NFL’s on-field gender barrier, quietly working the kind of game that made the players and coaches forget who was calling it.

“I thought she did a good job of communicating,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I was focused on the Packers, but there was communication before the game.”

It’s no surprise.

Eastin is a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, college football’s second-highest level, and a 16-year veteran of officiating. She got her NFL shot as a replacement official, among a group taking the place of the regular refs, who are locked out.

And now, she’ll have a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Well, at least her cap will; the one she wore Thursday night is headed to Canton.

Replacement officials are working games for the first time in 11 years and are scheduled to work 16 games this weekend, including six Thursday night.

The crew working the Hall of Fame game last Sunday had some shaky moments and the officials at Thursday’s game between Buffalo and Washington were booed after muffing a touchback call. That added to Eastin’s pressure of being the first woman to officiate an NFL game _ in front of millions of viewers, no less, with the game on national TV.

Eastin is no stranger to breaking barriers, though.

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