Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Critics of controversial UM win must remember mistakes are part of sports

UM football players celebrate with fans after defeating Duke 30-27 in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015.
UM football players celebrate with fans after defeating Duke 30-27 in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. AP

I say this with all due respect:

Shut up, America!

Get real, all of you Duke fans and Hurricanes-haters and media blowhards who preposterously believe Miami should magnanimously forfeit its Saturday night victory in Durham, N.C. Even sillier: The idea that the NCAA or Atlantic Coast Conference should step in and annul UM’s 30-27 win over the officiating controversy of that last play.

In Coral Gables you can already buy T-shirts commemorating the play, which the shirts call “The RetUrn,” with a stylized U, and depict all eight laterals. Predictably, many in the national media are aghast at that, too, as if Miami should disown rather than celebrate that miracle finish.

No. It happened. It counts. And Miami gets to be proud of it as one of the most memorable plays in program history even if ACC commissioner John Swofford, after the fact, threw his officiating crew under a bus and ruled that the TD should not have counted.

The ACC overreacted, or should I say unnecessarily acted, by suspending the officiating crew for two games for supposed errors that supposedly should have negated that score. In fact, the only thing that might have merited a suspension was taking nine minutes to review the play and finally rule the TD good.

That eight-lateral touchdown has been scrutinized more than any piece of video since the Zapruder film in 1963. I have watched it a dozen times. And I still think it is inconclusive whether Mark Walton’s knee was down before one of those laterals, or if there was an illegal block in the back later in the play.

Neither was so obvious that the officials saw enough to negate that TD upon their initial review. And neither was so obvious that Swofford should have bowed to the public outcry a day later and undercut his officials.

By the way, UM’s Corn Elder on Monday was named ACC Specialist of the Week for that very play. So the same conference that said the TD shouldn’t have counted just congratulated the player who scored it.

It was a spectacular play, no matter what anybody says, Canes moving up the field rugby-like, Blue Devils desperately failing to stop them.

“That was supernatural,” old coach Howard Schnellenberger called it Monday, chuckling. “It was like in grade-school, when we’d play keep away.”

The upside of the storm of reaction to how Miami won is that it lets you know that The U remains a program of high prominence even a decade past its days winning five national championships and living in the top 10.

If it involves Canes football, defeats are still celebrated and controversies still magnified by so many who still love to hate UM — including so many in the hardly impartial media.

The phenomenon goes back to the mid-’80s when this program was getting really good and let you know it. Michael Irvin swaggered in his sleep. So did Jimmy Johnson. Those Canes embraced their bad-boys image. They were the Oakland Raiders.

Those were the days of camouflage fatigues and off-field controversies that led the otherwise reputable Sports Illustrated to call for the program to be abolished.

Thirty years later fan and media overreaction is still common where it concerns Miami. Just last week, after the 58-0 home loss to Clemson that got Al Golden fired, SEC Network commentator Paul Finebaum, a font of rational thought (!), called UM football “a dumpster fire” and said, “I don’t know why any coach in their right mind would want this job.”

So it figured the torches and pitchforks would be back out now, in the wake of Miami being perceived as stealing a victory it might not have earned.

I’d expect the reaction from Blue Devils fans or from losing bettors, but even folks who should know better, like respected Mike Wilbon, Tweeted that the outcome of the game should be reversed.

First, that doesn’t happen, and shouldn’t. NCAA Rule 1, Section 1, Article 3 states, “When the referee declares that the game is ended, the score is final.” This isn’t the legal system, people. You can’t file a motion to delay a game because your quarterback is hurt, and you can’t appeal a loss that doesn’t sit right with you.

Second, human error always has been a variable in sports, always will be, and always should be.

People make mistakes. Some of those people are athletes, and some of them are game officials in striped shirts. Mistakes are a part of life. And mistakes are one of the great variables that make sports so exciting because they are so unpredictable.

Sports are fun not just because of who’s great and what goes right, but also because of who screws up and what might go wrong. The jubilant “We’re No. 1!” chants will always be balanced by the outcry, “We Wuz Robbed!”

Mistakes have helped write sports history.

The Vikings’ Jim Marshall ran the wrong way in 1964.

A routine ground ball rolled between Bill Buckner’s legs.

Scott Norwood missed wide right.

The Trail Blazers thought Sam Bowie would be better than Michael Jordan.

Umpire Jim Joyce cost Armando Galarraga his perfect game.

Dewey defeated Truman (or so reported the Chicago Daily Tribune).

If the striped shorts in Durham blew it Saturday night, so be it.

The point here isn’t whether they did or not.

The point is that even if so, that is a part of the fabric of sports, of life.

Instant replay and reviews are supposed to reduce the chances that mistakes by umpires or referees might determine outcomes, but the safety net is not perfect because the people watching and reviewing aren’t.

The phenomena of mistakes are that they are impartial. Capriciously, like funny bounces or dumb luck, mistakes might work for you or against you.

Heck, Saturday night alone, prior to that final return, UM had been penalized an ACC-record 23 times, a strong indication there was hardly a pro-Canes bias at work as the officials gathered (interminably) to reconsider that last play.

Canes fans to this day are still convinced an officiating error on a pass-interference call against Ohio State cost Miami that national championship on Jan. 3, 2003. What goes around comes around, perhaps?

I would refer you to the iconic 1980s bumper sticker that offered perhaps the perfect two-word existential commentary on life, which includes sports:

“S--- Happens.”

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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