When I saw the play live, T.A. McLendon's questionable touchdown run that was utimately wiped off the board, I was in about as good a position as a back judge would be if play was going on closer to midfield. I was inside the hedges, centered less than five feet from the end zone the Wolfpack was driving towards with time running out.
Making my way down through the stands towards the UNC locker room, I witnessed Richard Washington's 39-yard run that put N.C. State into scoring position at the Carolina 28. Finally, four plays later, I settled in just right of the goal posts to watch McLendon's final three rushes.
As he drove the Pack to the UNC 3-yard line, I turned and said, "This reminds me of the Arizona State game," referring to my similar positioning when Sun Devils' quarterback Andrew Walter connected with Skyler Fulton with no time remaining on the clock, stripping away a nearly dramatic Tar Heel victory last year.
But this time I held an even better location.
Then, when McLendon took the handoff, dived toward the goal line and the head linesman signaled touchdown, I immediately said, "Wait, he didn't get in."
Also rarely if ever discussed was the expedient trigger finger of the clock operator, who in an instant put six points on the board for State, while officials were still conferring on the field.
Keep in mind, moments later, there were thousands of UNC fans screaming from the closed end of the horseshoe, "Take those points off the board! Take those points off the board!" So there was certainly enough one-sided emotion in my environment to sway my thinking, and perhaps even an official's. But for the rest of the evening, I was comfortable with my assessment that McLendon's knee was down and the game's outcome genuine.
While waiting in the Kenan Center players' lounge, there were several State media members whose demeanors resembled those in a funeral parlor.
Just prior to John Bunting's post-game press conference, the offical explanation on the ruling from referee Jim Knight was read out loud by a UNC spokesperson: "It was not an overrule. The line judge, Rick Page, saw the runner's knee down before the ball crossed the goal line plane. He relayed that information to me and that was how the play was ruled."
When I heard several other reporters say an ESPN replay clip that played over the Kenan press box TV confirmed McLendon was down, I decided to run with what I had in my game story: Heels Win Classic.
However, after getting home and watching WTVD's replay from midnight to 3 a.m. early Sunday morning, I wasn't so sure. That night, I must have replayed McLendon's now infamous rush in my head 100 times over.
About 10:30 a.m. I was greeted at by my weekly radio show co-host, PackPride.com's Scott Vogelsburg.
Scott provided an alternative viewpoint, that not only was there a serious controversy surrounding the game but that it was clear that McLendon had scored, and therefore, N.C. State had been slighted. He wrote later in a column on Monday that the game should be "marked with an asterisk."
While I stuck by my guns, I had to admit to myself that I had yet to see a touchdown's points taken off the scoreboard in a college game. And, I was sure Carolina fans would have been crying foul if the whole thing had been reversed.
By Monday afternoon, while I listened to a reporter on a talk radio show explain why he thought State should have won the game, I realized this debate wasn't just going to go away.
Then, first on WRAL.com and then again on a big screen during the six o'clock news version, I saw the best replay available in two decisive clips.
The first seemed to show that McLendon did legitimately score when he lunged with the ball across the goal line while spinning on top of Tommy Davis. It also appeared his knee hit the turf after he had apparently scored.
But then from another angle, a view no official except line judge Rick Page had seen, it was clear that Davis had driven McLendon's knees into the ground, before the State tailback ever made his final twist and thrust to the end zone.
While this may not have convinced everyone, especially State fans that put a lot of time and effort into their protest following the game, it provided closure for this reporter.
To view the web version of the clip, go to WRAL.com, scroll down to "Featured Video" section and click on "Watch video of controversial call in N.C. State-UNC game."