One thing (for at least some of the refs) that I haven''t heard discussed is that when watching the game it was apparent that someone had a whistle in the stands. It seemed that every play had a whistle going off during the action. It would explain why the players didn't stop and the head referee might not have noticed that one of guys blew a whistle. Doesn't explain why the guy who did didn't step up though...
We’ve waited until today to discuss the bizarro call at the end of Saturday’s Tennessee-Vanderbilt game because Wednesday is usually the day the SEC announces punishments and suspensions. And members of the crew involved in last weekend’s contest were famously suspended by the league back in 2009. So we wanted to see if any action was taken by the league before chiming in with our views on this mess.
For those who didn’t see it, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers was picked off by Tennessee defensive back Eric Gordon during the first session of the teams’ overtime contest. Gordon’s knee got low to the ground as he caught the ball, but it did not touch. Unfortunately, head linesman Gus Morris — with an obscured view — blew his whistle and ran to mark the ball down. Only… no one on the field stopped playing and Gordon returned the ball 90+ yards for an apparent 27-21 game-winning score.
But Derek Dooley’s postgame celebration — like those at last year’s LSU and North Carolina games — was cut short. Official Marc Curles informed the crowd of the following:
“The ruling on the field (is) the ball was fumbled, recovered by Tennessee (player Gordon) with his knee on the ground. Therefore the runner is down, Vanderbilt’s series is over and Tennessee gets the ball, first and 10 on the 25 (yard-line).”
Technically, that should’ve been it for Gordon’s interception. The Vol offense should have trotted onto the field and attempted to end the game with a touchdown or field goal. The game should have continued.
But Curles’ crew reversed direction:
“The previous play is under further review. Although the runner’s knee was ruled down, there was no whistle or signal.”
Upon review, it was clear that Gordon’s knee had not touched the ground and Tennessee was granted the touchdown and an immediate victory.
But here’s the rub — inadvertent whistles can’t be reviewed. For the sake of player safety, once a whistle blows — right or wrong — the play is dead. End of story. Except in this case.
So in a way, two wrongs did indeed make a right:
* The linesman was wrong to rule Gordon down.
* The crew was wrong to review the play.
* But no one was going to stop Gordon on his way to the end zone in the first place, so Tennessee did deserve to win the game.
* Officials will make mistakes. Just as coaches make bad play calls and players put the ball on the turf, officials will blow calls. It happens. And with our current technology we certainly see every missed call over and over and over again. Mistakes are part of the game. Always have been, always will be.
* We believe the league needs to better explain how it was that Curles flipped on his mic and told the Neyland Stadium crowd that “there was no whistle or signal,” when clearly Morris did blow his whistle — it was audible during the live broadcast on ESPNU — and did run onto the field to mark the ball down.
So far, SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw has put out only the following release:
“On the last play of the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game, in overtime, the Tennessee defender intercepted the pass, his knee did not touch the ground and he returned the interception for a touchdown. During the play, the head linesman incorrectly ruled that the Tennessee player’s knee was down when he intercepted the pass by blowing his whistle and giving the dead ball signal. The play was reviewed as if there was no whistle on the field, and as a result, overturned the incorrect ruling. By rule, if there was a whistle blown, the play is not reviewable.”
So how is it a crew could claim that a whistle was never blown when it clearly was? More than a question of a correct or missed call, this situation creates doubts about the credibility of SEC officials. In a world where many fans honestly believe the SEC office and its refs are “out to get” their favorite teams, it’s bad practice to have a crew openly mislead tens of thousands of fans in the stands and hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of fans watching at home on television.
We’re not calling for heads here. As we noted above, mistakes happen. But the league needs to comment on the crew’s decision to review that play after a whistle had been blown.
* Watching the Tennessee-Vanderbilt situation unfold, the Immaculate Reception game came to mind. It’s become an urban legend that the officials in that game phoned upstairs to see if they would have police protection should they rule that Franco Harris did not catch that now-famous, deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw. Legend has it they were told they would get no such protection so they quickly returned to the field, ruled the play a touchdown, thrilled thousands of Steeler fans at Three Rivers Stadium, and promptly got the heck out of Dodge.
If Tennessee had had its third victory in two years taken off the board, you can imagine the reaction of Volunteer fans. Certainly, the SEC officials had plenty of motivation on Saturday night to correct their blown call… even if it meant breaking another rule to do it.
* How lucky was the SEC that it was the Tennessee-Vanderbilt overtime session that ended under bizarre circumstances and not the Alabama-LSU game of earlier this month? Had the Game of the Century ended in such a way, here’s betting the SEC office and perhaps Mike Slive himself would have had to give comment.
* James Franklin and Vandy fans can be upset that the letter of the law wasn’t followed in this case, but they shouldn’t complain too loudly. In reality, it was the interception that was the difference in the game. Praying for an inadvertent whistle is simply pleading for a technicality.
We said the same thing when Tennessee fans complained last season that LSU’s T-Bob Hebert had taken his helmet off seconds before the actual end of the Vols’ loss to the Tigers. Could a flag have been thrown? Yes (though as former coordinator of SEC officials Rogers Redding told us… that’s a discretionary call). But did Tennessee deserve to win because a player took his helmet off a couple of seconds early? Of course not.
Just as Vanderbilt didn’t deserve to win on Saturday because an official mistakenly blew his whistle.