On 3rd-and-6 in the first series of overtime, Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers threw an interception to Tennessee defensive back Eric Gordon. Gordon took it 90 yards for a game-ending touchdown...or so we thought.
As soon as my father and I finished slapping high-fives and gloating over the look of disdain on Commodore head coach James Franklin's face, an all too familiar phrase was uttered by the head referee:
"The previous play is under further review."
Last year, fans of the Volunteers had the feeling of victory ripped from them after the game ended not once but twice. As one of those fans, I readily admit that the Vols' own mistakes led to the loss against LSU, but the Music City Bowl loss against North Carolina was the fault of the officials.
And so was this one. Or should I say, so would have been this one.
A rogue official decided to call what he thought he saw rather than what he actually saw and blew Gordon down after his interception. A simple review of the play reveals that Gordon was not remotely close to touching his knee to the ground. He caught his balance with a few fingers, and that was all.
By rule, the interception should have counted—ending Vandy's series with zero points, a virtual surrender in college overtime—but the whistle that claimed Gordon was down should have ended the play.
Apparently, the scream of a referee's whistle is more honored than his actual decision, which is allowed to be reviewed.
The play went to the review booth where it was blatantly evident that the official who had blown the play down was completely wrong. He had blown the call severely. But I knew that Tennessee could win with any kind of points on its upcoming series.
But the victory was reached sooner...
The head referee made the wrong ruling to get the call right. Note my usage of specific words. He got the by-the-letter ruling wrong, but that directly led to getting the actual call right. I say success!
After all, what's the point of review? Is it to make sure that each play is followed by the NCAA's rule, or is it to get the call right? Often these two are one and the same, but this wasn't the case on Saturday.
Vandy fans slammed message boards with arguments so specific, you would think we were examining a microscopic organism. It's a football game. The mantra "get the call right" has been trumpeted by nearly all, but when an incorrect call by an official gets in the way of making the right call, we are supposed to instead adopt the mantra "do whatever the hell the rule book says."
Use Your Brain, Folks! (Side note: Vols win)
The choice of the referee, intentional or not, was one that set a great precedence for bigger games: If a rule directly interferes with one's ability to make the obviously correct call, it is acceptable and indeed encouraged to use common sense and truly officiate, i.e., make the correct ruling.
Maybe two wrongs don't make a right. But in Neyland Stadium on November 19th, two blown calls sure did.
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