Monday, September 18, 2006

Officiating bad, teams were worse.

Perhaps the most famous blown call in sports in the last 25 years occured in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, back when Major League Baseball was a legit sport. The St. Louis Cardinals were up 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th against cross-state rival Kansas City. Cardinals' closer Todd Worrell was 3 outs away from closing out the Kansas City Royals for good and sewing up a World title for St. Louis. Things looked great for the Cardinals as Jorge Orta led off by weakly grounding to Jack Clark, who tossed it to Todd Worrell for the first out, or so everyone thought.

Umpire Don Denkinger, however, called Orta safe. Replays showed otherwise.

For Cardinals fans, this is where the story stops. The next thing you usually hear them say is that the Royals went on to win the World Series.

What Cardinals fan conveniently forgets is that Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter misplayed a pop-up foul ball that would have gotten Steve Balboni out. He also neglects to mention that Porter later had a passed ball that advanced Balboni and Jim Sundberg into scoring position. Also, Cardinals fan will probably conveniently forget that Porter also failed to tag Sundberg on the game winning run after Andy Van Slyke made a perfect throw to him.

Oh, and even after all that, the Cardinals still could have won game 7 if John Tudor had displayed the form that made him a Cy Young runner-up in 1985. Instead, Tudor allowed 5 runs and 4 walks in 2 1/3 innings. The rest of the pitching staff wasn't any better, and the Cardinals bats didn't show up.

Yes, the Cardinals were the victims of a bad call. But to say that it determined the series is wrong. All the Cardinals had to do was get the last 3 outs of Game 6 after the bad call, or at least not choke in Game 7 and St. Louis is the World Champion.

Fast forward to Week 3 of the 2006 College Football Season, where the spirit of Don Denkinger is apparently alive and well in Eugene, Oregon and Auburn, Alabama.

With 1:12 left to go in the 4th Quarter and Oregon down 33-27 to Oklahoma, Oregon needed to recover an onside kick. Ball kicked, OU recovers. Except the officials, replay official included, rule that the ball belongs to Oregon, despite obvious evidence to the contrary.

Like Cardinals fans retelling the '85 series, the next thing you hear out of OU fan is that the call cost them the game as Oregon ended up winning 34-33.

Like Cardinals fans, they are leaving a few details out.

The Oklahoma defense is one of the most talented units in the nation, yet it allowed 501 yards total offense to Oregon, a team that had 379 total yards the previous week against Fresno State. 343 of the yards Oklahoma allowed were through the air, Fresno State only allowed the Ducks 240 yards passing.

Jonathan Stewart, Oregon's leading rusher, had 144 yards rushing on 6.3 yards/carry against Oklahoma. The entire Oregon team had 139 yards on 4.1 yards/carry against Fresno State.

Fresno State is probably a team Oklahoma could beat 9 times out of 10 on a neutral field and yet they had better defensive stats against the same Oregon team.

(Source for stats:; Oklahoma - Oregon Box Score; Oregon - Fresno State Box Score)

If Oklahoma had played up to it's ability level, Oregon isn't even in this ballgame with 1:12 left.

Like the Cardinals of 1985, the Sooners still had an opportunity to win despite the officials error. Garrett Hartley had a 44 yard field goal attempt on the last play of the game that would have won it. Unfortunately, like the Cardinals, OU's field goal protection choked. The kick was blocked.

A similar situation occured in the Auburn-LSU game where an apparent pass interference was waived off because the officials said the ball was tipped. Unfortunately, the replay showed that the contact was before the tip.

Still, LSU, for all the 309 yards it gained on offense, only put 3 points on the scoreboard. Had the Tigers finished a few more of these drives, the call isn't even an issue.

That's on the LSU Tigers, not the officials.

Also, LSU still had a chance to win, but JaMarcus Russell made a huge mistake by not trying to throw the ball in the end zone on the last play. The recievers hadn't made a catch-and-run touchdown all day. What made Russell think it was going to happen on the last play when all 11 Auburn defenders are in front of a guy trying to run into the end zone?

Yes, bad calls happen. Yes, teams get hosed. But most of the time, there's something your team could have done to prevent the call from being a game changer. And many times, your team will get a chance to undo the damage, if they take advantage of it.
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