On Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama fought off a battered LSU team to claim the Western Division crown in the SEC for the second consecutive year, setting up a rematch with top-ranked Florida in the championship game.
With zeroes left on the clock, the scoreboard read Alabama 24, LSU 15.
I was fortunate enough to attend the game, in perhaps the rowdiest Tuscaloosa atmosphere in 15 years.
The game was as the past two Bama-LSU matchups were-close and hard-hitting. LSU and Alabama both made many key plays, but Alabama made a few more down the stretch to claim the victory.
However, the national and local media has decided that the focus on the game should be the controversial incomplete pass that looked like it could have been an interception by LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by six with time leaking from the clock, LSU covered a called roll-out by quarterback Greg McElroy very well. Attempting to squeeze the ball into the hands of Julio Jones, McElroy fired a pass that was on the boundary, only to see Peterson lunge in front of Jones for the pick.
After a short delay, officials on the field ruled the ball incomplete, much to the chagrin of the LSU sideline, which was frantically claiming that Peterson came up with the ball in bounds. The officials turned it over to the replay booth, which confirmed the ruling on the field.
Without the benefit of a replay for those actually in the stadium, this appeared to be another close play that could have gone either way. Television replays would tell a different story.
As an admitted Alabama fan, I can say with near certainty that the call was missed. I don't really understand why the play wasn't reversed. I watched the replay several times late that night, trying to see what the replay official saw, and was unable to come up with anything.
I assume that the replay officials know how to do their job better than I do, and that Peterson gained full control of the ball as his foot tapped the ground, too close to call if the foot was in-bounds or not.
Oh well, I thought, that was a nice break in a close game.
What I didn't expect, and what continues to amuse me, are the outlandish conspiracy theories that have been hatched by this particular play.
Evidently, the media, along with several factions of SEC fan bases have decided that this was just the latest in a sinister plan by the SEC brass to assure an Alabama-Florida rematch in December.
Like most other moderately sensible people, I chuckled at this notion when it was first mentioned following the Arkansas-Florida game, when a ridiculous personal foul was whistled on Arkansas late in a very tight game.
The whispers gathered more momentum in the next weeks, when Florida was the beneficiary of non-reversal of a fumble against Mississippi State. Add in Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin's whining, sniveling comments following their game with Alabama about the discrepancy in penalties called.
People were even claiming that Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody should have been flagged for a personal foul when he removed his helmet after his victory-clinching block.
The murmurs have now become a full uproar following the controversial call on the boundary in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
On ESPN's "Around the Horn", while the talking heads debated the Great Conspiracy, the headline at the bottom of the screen read "LSU ROBBED?". Later, on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption", the analysts laid claim to the validity of the Conspiracy.
So let me get this straight....
Somewhere, in a dark room in the SEC offices, commissioner Mike Slive must have met with the SEC head of officiating Rogers Redding and had a conversation that MUST have gone something like this:
Scene: Mike Slive sits in his office chair in his lair, I mean office, dressed in an all-white suit. A hairless cat reclines in his lap. Slive extends his little finger on his right hand to his mouth, and....
SLIVE: "Listen, Rogers. I've got a plan to make sure we get Alabama and Florida back in the SEC Championship game, and help us achieve national dominance and BILLIONS of dollars. Billions! This has to work! I'm not sure if the conference's foundations will hold if another team makes it in. But I need your help."
REDDING: "Hmmmm....devious. I'm listening."
SLIVE: "Okay, here's what we're gonna do. I need your officials to make sure that every close call goes in favor of Alabama and Florida in their games. Even if it's a replay decision, we need you to rule in favor of Alabama or Florida.
"It really doesn't matter if it is a blatantly obvious call. In fact, I'm going to need you to call 90 percent of all penalties on their opponents. You can throw in an occasional flag on Alabama or Florida, but only if the game won't be immediately impacted."
REDDING: "That sounds like something we can handle."
SLIVE: "Listen, I know you and your guys are going to catch the brunt of backlash from this, so I am prepared to reward each of you financially."
REDDING: "I don't know, Mikey, I could use the extra change, but that sounds like something that could get us into trouble."
SLIVE: "Listen, Rodge, there's nothing to worry about. I'm going to start fining coaches that speak ill of you, and you'll be free to make the calls that are necessary. I know that these games are under the largest microscope in college football, but I think you're up to the task.
"Now, go, meet with your guys and let them know the situation. If anyone has a problem with our arrangement, I'll have some of my guys pay them a special visit."
REDDING: "Okay, boss. Whatever's best for the conference."
SLIVE: "That's the spirit. Now go bring me my dream matchup."
Slive erupts into maniacal laughter.
I mean, that's how it had to go down, right?
Can't you just see it? Slive, reclining behind his desk in a dimly lit room, coaxing the head of officials to see it his way.
Is this what it has come to?
If you are a self-respecting SEC football fan, and you are spouting garbage like this, you need to have your fan license revoked. Permanently.
Be it fear of an obvious fine for making detrimental comments about the officiating or not, I give Les Miles a lot of credit for taking the high road and not questioning the call.
If he were my coach, I would be proud that he took responsibility for the loss instead of blaming it on the officials, a la Lane Kiffin, Dan Mullen, or Steve Spurrier.
Alabama outgained LSU by nearly 200 yards. Alabama had 10 more first downs. The LSU sideline looked like a M.A.S.H. unit, with players responsible for 12, that's right, 12 injury stoppages in play.
You're going to try to convince me that the game was won or lost on a single interception non-reversal?
Not me. Call me a homer. I'll call it exactly what it was, a nice break in a season where we have seen just as many go the other way.
And I'll continue to roll my eyes at the masses from Tennessee, LSU, and even Auburn, who have all of the sudden become quite focused on the officiating intricacies-not in their own games, but in ours.
Here is my advice to the conspiracy theorists out there.
Hard as it may be, try to muster up at least a semblance of pride in your own team. Take a step back and look at yourselves: whining over the officiating. It is really quite sad. You are doing your own team an injustice.
And since you all seem to be so interested in the goings-on at Alabama and Florida, here is what you can do: throw a little Jiffy-Pop on the stove and grab yourself a nice seat in front of the old tube.
You aren't going to want to miss what Mike Slive and the boys have risked everything for: another epic Alabama/Florida championship game.
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