Last night, the Miami Hurricanes defeated the Duke Blue Devils 30-27 on an insane 75-yard, 8-lateral return. The problem: it shouldn't have counted, for at least two reasons if not more. A flag for blocking in the back was actually thrown on the play against Miami; the flag was then picked up by the officials.
(Edit: originally, the above paragraph ended incorrectly, based on faulty information.)
Meanwhile, another block in the back -- this one, an actual block in the back rather than an incorrectly flagged one -- went unnoticed, and there's a very real question as to whether one of the involved Miami ball-carriers was down by rule before managing to get a lateral off. It was a completely botched play by the ACC officiating crew, and while we can often yell about bad calls impacting a game this one directly and indisputably gave Miami the victory.
Which brings us to a history lesson.
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On a chilly November morning, as war raged across Europe and the United States remained theoretically uninvolved, the unbeaten and second-ranked Cornell Big Red brought an 18-game winning streak and a 6-0 record to Hanover, New Hempshire. Awaiting them were their eastern football rivals -- it wasn't the Ivy League yet, wouldn't be for another sixteen years -- from Dartmouth, then known as the Indians. Dartmouth was 3-4, playing out the string.
It was a brutal defensive affair, the sort of game that would arouse SEC fans and infuriate Art Briles. For three quarters, neither team was able to put a point on the board. Finally Dartmouth was able to get close enough to try a field goal in the fourth quarter, and took a 3-0 lead on the Big Red.
The game ground on, and with under a minute to go Cornell penetrated the Dartmouth red zone with a first down at the six-yard line. Two rushes later, the ball was at the one. Another run on third down was stopped short of the goal line, and Cornell called timeout. The Big Red came back from the sideline, and Pop Scholl rolled out to his right, firing a pass into the end zone which fell incomplete.
The referee signaled fourth down.
Scholl again rolled out right, finding Bill Murphy for the game-winning touchdown on fifth and one. The Big Red converted the extra point and departed the field with a 7-3 victory.
Despite being guilty of nothing, after reviewing the game film Cornell's administration sent a telegram to Dartmouth offering to forfeit the game. Dartmoth accepted, and the game has ever since been recorded as a 3-0 win for the New Hampshire Ivies.
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The most important thing to remember here is that Miami, like Cornell, has done nothing wrong. It is Miami's victory to claim or decline, because that is how we do things in this great land despite technology having advanced to such a level that everyone and their monkey knows that Duke won that football game last night. If Miami chooses not to forfeit, then so be it. They aren't bad people. One could even argue that the proper resolution is to consider Duke to be 7-1 and Miami 5-3. Weird, perhaps unworkable, but then we live in a world where we pretend wins didn't happen just because someone gave a kid a hamburger.
Also important is the realization that we don't make these judgments when an official blows a call in the third quarter. Too much happens afterward. The team which is negatively impacted by the mistake at least has the opportunity to say, "Okay. We just got shafted. Fine. Let's get it back." One argument against Miami forfeiting is that next week some team will demand their opponent forfeit because of a blown call midway through the fourth quarter. There's a term for that sort of argument: the slippery slope. There's a difference between last night and this hypothetical situation: Duke had actually already won the game by the rules of the game itself at the time of the blown call.
Had the referees properly given Dartmouth the ball back with just seconds on the clock at their own one-yard line, Dartmouth wins the football game. They might win it 3-2 rather than 3-0, but they'd have won legitimately. This situation is even more clear. If the officials had thrown the correct flag, or blown the play dead at the correct juncture, Duke wins the game without even needing to take a snap. The game was over. Miami was incorrectly granted a victory by the officials after the game had ended.
Should Miami forfeit? There is no explicable reason why they shouldn't, other than the hoary tradition of allowing the result, however tainted, to stand. But there's something for Miami brass and fans to consider very carefully today:
Colorado did nothing wrong in 1990, either. And today, 25 years later, people (incorrectly and unfairly) think they cheated, whereas 65 years later people think Cornell acted honorably and brought credit to the sport. That's the damnable thing, Hurricanes. You can cling to a win that wasn't deserved on the basis that you did nothing wrong and your players shouldn't have the win taken away from them, but there's a flip side to this and a lesson for everyone. You didn't earn it either. Accepting the win last night is like innocently accepting a wad of cash that belongs to someone else because the person who handed it to you was mistaken. It's like claiming credit for someone else's work because someone convinced you it was yours. It's like the waitress bringing you a drink you didn't order, and telling you that someone bought it for you, when they meant to buy it for your wing.
It's understandable, and you're not doing anything wrong by accepting it... but Duke is being wronged by you accepting it. The only venue in which we think it's completely okay to argue that you deserved the reward is in sports.
So what's worse? Depriving your players of a win, or depriving them of an object lesson in doing the right thing?
Duke was ranked 18th in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll last week. Today, they dropped out of the top 25, despite having beaten the Hurricanes.