LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Retired NFL referee Walt Coleman was greeted by applause recently followed by boos at his request while speaking in front of a crowd of about 100 people in downtown Little Rock.
Weeks after his last game as the league's most-tenured official in December, Coleman's message to members of the Delta Leadership Network — a regional economic and business development group — was to take professional gaffes in stride and with a sense of humor.
After nearly three decades as an NFL official, the Little Rock native joked that booing is what he's more accustomed to while delivering a keynote speech at the group's annual conference.
"When you're right, no one remembers," Coleman told the crowd. "When you're wrong, nobody lets you forget."
During his speech, he read off scathing emails and letters he's saved over the years from fans questioning his eye vision and some demanding his retirement. It drew wide laughs inside the Little Rock Marriott ballroom downtown, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Coleman told business leaders attending from Arkansas and the surrounding seven states that criticism is largely inevitable in any professional setting.
"There's always somebody that's going to be negative," Coleman told them. "We can't forget that we're important."
In a way, reflecting with a dash of humor is how he's navigated the bruising feedback he's gotten throughout his career, including a 2002 ruling that an announcer derided as "the worst call in the history of the NFL."
"I guess we've seen the worst non-call in NFL history," Coleman retorted, referencing the controversial missed call during in the final minutes of the NFC Championship between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.
He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after the speech that he agreed not calling pass interference against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman was a missed call.
"The commissioner and everybody, they pretty much said everything you could say about it," Coleman said. "They'll get to decide whether to review stuff."
A penalty would have allowed New Orleans to add to a three-point lead by placing the Saints at the five-yard line with a fresh set of downs and less than two minutes remaining in the game.
Many fans felt the no-call cost New Orleans a trip to the Super Bowl after the Rams rallied to tie the game in regulation and eventually kick a game-winning field goal in overtime.
Meanwhile, Coleman said his retirement has yet to sink in since his last game on Dec. 30. But he suspects it will when he doesn't have to report for summer meetings.
"Ask me again in July," he said.