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Ramzy: The Worst Officiating In History
A terrible call happened in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl... just not the one you think.

When the Buckeyes and the Hurricanes kick off on Saturday it will have been 2,808 days since they last met in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl for the BCS title. As the years have passed since that night in Tempe, most of the details of what transpired that evening have dripped away from the since-rotted carcass of the Miami football program, rendering just one for history to remember that entire night by: A penalty flag thrown by Terry Porter in the first overtime.

This was instant-revisionist history that began on Jan 3, 2003 and has been perpetuated to this day. While it is flawed, it isn’t completely off base – the reason and the way that the 2003 Fiesta Bowl ended was significantly influenced by terrible officiating. Up by three points with two minutes to go with the ball on third down with Miami out of ways to stop the clock, this happened:

There are bad calls, missed calls and bad no-calls in every single game. This play was a super-sized value meal composting of awful officiating: Chris Gamble gets held twice in space, manages to get open and catches the ball in-bounds in what should have been a prelude to two Dave plays off tackle followed by Ohio State’s victory formation with Craig Krenzel taking a knee as time expired on a 17-14 win. Instead, holding was not called in either instance and Gamble was incorrectly ruled out of bounds (note that was the call the official made). On top of that, William Joseph took two full steps and then deliberately shoved Krenzel to the ground after he had thrown the ball. That’s a roughing call that is routinely made in any game.

Make any one of those calls correctly and the game is over. Miami would then be rightfully remembered as a football juggernaut and cautionary tale that did not take its opponent seriously enough and Ohio State would be further remembered as the deceptively scrappy troupe held together by dominating line play and ball control. Post game interviews would have Miami players and coaches talking about how much faster the Buckeyes were on the field than they were on tape. This ending to the story, which was erased only by awful officiating, has been forgotten by history for good reason: Who cares? The right team ended up winning. In the end, nothing was taken from them. Ohio State won despite the officiating.

The reason nobody talks about this Gamble play is because ultimately, it didn’t matter – the team that should have won the game in regulation ended up winning the game in double overtime by stopping Miami four times from the two-yard line. Had Porter not thrown the late flag on Glenn Sharpe, the Gamble play from regulation would have lived in infamy, and it would be the play we would all be talking about this week entering the first rematch on Saturday: The blown series of calls that led to Miami pushing the game into overtime and eventually winning its second straight title. Two missed holds, a late hit on the quarterback that would have produced an automatic first down, and most importantly, a completed pass that produced a first down and the national championship. Call any one of the three penalties, or – hell – just rule the completed pass complete and the game is over. Instead we were provided with unnecessary drama that still managed to deliver the rightful outcome.

Perhaps if Dan Fouts, who quietly commented, “that was close to being a completion” while watching the replay had instead shouted, “BAD CALL!” as he did while watching the back angle of the contested Sharpe/Gamble play, it would have been a more noteworthy element of the narrative perpetuated by the cast of unshowered dozens who claim to be Miami fans or general haters within the college football community. However, the son of Fouts’ favorite receiver and close friend didn’t play for the Buckeyes that night. His color commentary throughout the game was clear indictment of his bias, culminating by downplaying the Gamble play from regulation and erupting in protest following the Gamble play in overtime.

This of course leads to great irony of this story, being the controversial flag on Sharpe in the first overtime. It was the right call. It was just egregiously late, and Porter signaled both pass interference as well as defensive holding, further confusing the issue. The National Association of Sports Officials named it one of the 18 best calls in officiating history. Regardless, Miami fans scapegoat and misdirect their ire at Terry Porter. It’s easier than remembering details. They may not be able to fill half of a stadium, but they’re very loud, which is the defining characteristic of all angry, uninformed people.

The missed calls on the Gamble play that ultimately produced the two unnecessary overtimes did manage to produce some memorable fruit: The Buckeyes were eventually faced with 4th and 14 in the first overtime, which they converted on an out-route to Michael Jenkins (which Miami fans after the game complained was due to a missed offensive pass interference call, but as the years have passed they have collectively chosen to cling to and go all-in on the Porter call instead). Fourth and 14 was one of the defining plays of the 2002 season for Ohio State, which produced more snatch-victories-from-the-jaws-of-defeat moments than anyone would care to experience again. Without overtime, it never would have happened.

Additionally, Miami moved the ball in the final overtime to the Ohio State two-yard line and had four chances to punch it in. Four plays later, the game ended with the final scrimmage being marked on the Ohio State two-yard line. What’s a legendary title game without an epic goal-line stand? This was one element that had been missing up until the very end. The Miami defense was bowled over four separate times on running plays with its back to its own end zone. The Buckeyes held. The expression isn’t “swagger wins championships” for a reason.

Sharpe recently said that both Gamble and Jenkins admitted privately that there was no pass interference on the play. If you’ve ever watched a football game, wide receivers take it upon themselves to call pass interference after every incompletion. If you could find anyone in the world more qualified to consistently get interference calls wrong than the average referee, it’s a wide receiver. As difficult as it is to defend this particular officiating crew considering how bad it performed throughout regulation, Porter made the right call. Finally.

It is impossible to be completely objective, as if you flipped the uniforms and put Dustin Fox in Sharpe’s place on, say, Roscoe Parrish, there would have been an epic meltdown in Ohio. Then Earle Bruce would have made a public statement admonishing Buckeye fans for their behavior and pointing out all of these variables that preceded the call. The Ohio State football media – and I promise this is a compliment – are generally X and O football nerds who also thrive on devil’s advocacy. The underlying details would have been presented, explained and parsed down to the most basic detail for the lowest common denominator. A stadium celebration would have been held for the national runners-up, and what transpired in Glendale, AZ four years later could have had a decidedly different flavor. The crown of entitlement may not have been quite as heavy.

Since that night in Tempe, Miami has played in five December bowl games, losing three of them. Their two victories were against Ron Zook’s Florida Gators and a one-point thriller against Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl. Prior to that night in Tempe, Miami had played in two December bowl games over the previous 22 seasons. Ohio State destroyed Oklahoma State in the 2004 Alamo Bowl and has been in BCS games exclusively otherwise. The trajectories have had decidedly different tilts since that evening.

When Ohio State and Miami last met in the regular season back in 1999, they were coming from different directions: The Buckeyes had spent the previous six seasons in or near the top ten while Miami was rebuilding from the ground up. Over the next three years, the Canes would be dominant and the Buckeyes would start over. After meeting again in 2003, it would be Miami that had to start over while Ohio State went back to reloading as it had in the 1990s. This time around, both rosters are looking loaded and there’s no reason to believe either team is going to have another dip anytime soon, especially the Buckeyes, who have not had roster depth like this since 1996.

There may only be one or two players on the field Saturday who had a driver’s license at the time of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. It’s equally likely that most of the players are only versed in the revisionist Porter’s Flag version of what transpired the last time around and have bought into the idea of this being a revenge game. The details of why and how don’t matter. This is a game that’s been looming on the calendar since it was scheduled years ago. As with the game in Tempe, Ohio State will have an overwhelming home field advantage. This time, however, hopefully the Buckeyes won’t have to work two extra periods to re-seal the victory due to terrible officiating. Source: Bucknuts.com September 7, 2010 By Ramzy Link: A terrible call happened in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl... just not the one you think. Contact Ramzy

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