Ross: I believe

WWE commentator and big-time Sooner fan Jim Ross breaks down the debacle in Oregon in his weekly column on OUInsider.com. (Photo/SoonerPhotos.com)

It was like watching a scene from a bad pro wrestling storyline on TV. To the majority of the people in Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon Saturday, the bad guys, who ironically happened to be wearing white, had largely outplayed their hometown heroes wearing uniforms that looked like they had been designed by someone who confiscated some of Willie Nelson's mushrooms.

Drastic times called for drastic measures. Little did any of us watching the Sooners-Ducks game on ABC ever think the non-divine intervention would come from a bumbling 64 year-old Oregon native who had either decided he had to take care of the locals so the fans could go home "pro-wrestling-happy" or Mr. Gordon Riese was simply incompetent.

I have never been a fan of instant replay and have said such long before last Saturday. However, I do understand the reason instant replay was instituted and that was "to get the call right". "Getting the call right" has always been the goal of the officials I have known and worked games with over the past 30 plus years. Mr. Riese obviously did NOT get the call right. My question is why? Honestly, will we ever truly know? Finally, does it really matter now?

***

With a planned long layover on my way to Toronto, I watched the game alone in the Grand Hyatt in Terminal D at Dallas–Ft. Worth Airport, which is akin to drinking alone. It's not advised. It was like being involved in a tumultuous relationship that included hope, frustration, confusion, exaltation, and finally ending in heartbreak.

My stage manager Sunday night in Toronto at a WWE pay-per-view even and Monday night in Montreal for WWE Monday Night RAW, was ironically enough the tape operator inside the ABC production truck in Eugene on Sunday.

According to him, ABC provided Mr. Riese several different angles of the blotched onside kick call that were either ignored or too overwhelming for the retired Pac-10 official, who has probably worked dozens of scrimmages and perhaps even games in his "backyard" at Eugene for the Ducks' staff.

He does some work for the WWE as many of our camera men do ABC football. This individual, who I see on a weekly basis, said that the replay official received at least four replays of the onside kick and that the technicians in the truck were as shocked as the OU fans when the play was not overturned, as it was obvious to all involved EXCEPT the replay official that Oregon illegally touched the free kick prior to it traveling 10 yards.

I asked if there were any technical errors or problems with the feeding of video to the replay booth during the day and he said, 'Definitely not.' If there was, he would have heard and it would have been addressed immediately. This equipment is thoroughly checked prior to every game and at halftime, and a technician is standing by just in case of any technical failure.

After the game, the onsides kick was THE topic of conversation with the ABC people who could not believe that the obvious infraction of the onside kick rule was ignored by the replay official. The ABC people were concerned that they either missed the camera angle, which obviously they did not as we all saw, OR that there was a problem with the direct line feed from the production truck straight into the booth. Neither of these issues existed.

ABC did their job, the video techs did their job but the replay official for some unknown reason did not do his. After 28 years on the field as a Pac-10 official in major college football games, the onsides kick rule is one of the simplest rules to interpret. This is not a judgment call. It is simply all about the ball traveling a minimum of 10 yards before it can be legally touched by the kicking team.

The proof was there for the gentleman to see and to make the right call for all involved in this game, specifically the players and the coaches from each institution. Sadly, that did not happen.

***

Football officiating has long been a good 'ole boy network. This is not hyperbole. I have experienced this firsthand. As a former 20-year official, I have reaped the benefits of knowing the right people when receiving key assignments all the while knowing that if I screwed up and embarrassed the supervisor, who had entrusted me, I was done. Period.

A friend can get you "in" but it was my experience that my friends would not die on my hill. For whatever reason, I was fortunate to work, without incident, in 14 state championship games in Oklahoma and several college playoff games in football, basketball, and baseball over most of two decades.

I have also been on the other end of the spectrum. Back in the day, all roads to become a Big 8 football official ran through Stillwater. Influential Big 8 officials were based in Stillwater and to get their all-important recommendation one had to have a relationship with these veteran league officials, who were all on a first-name basis with the supervisor of football officials for the Big 8 conference. Several Oklahomans officiated Big 8 football games that were unqualified and rarely assigned to work Oklahoma high school football playoff games.

It was who you knew, plain and simple. I probably sound bitter, but I can tell you plenty of officials who were not "blessed" by the right folks and did not get their "break".

***

The good 'ole boy system in college officiating is still alive and well today. Some day some enterprising journalist is going to "bust" this network of "made men." Sounds like a nice project for a guy like Frank Deford of HBO.

Officials on the Division 1 level, and especially in the NFL, are there because they have been recommended by the right people. There is no thorough scouting program where officials are reviewed for the season until they are ready to be called up like Major League Baseball.

The NFL gets officials out of colleges, who have been provided the pro wrestling-like "push" by their conference bosses. The anointed ones are put in these positions by men who they play golf with, who they have cocktails with, purchase cars from, bank with and who are their insurance men. The more officials, for example, the Pac-10 places in "the league" the better the perception is of the conference.

Nonetheless, the NFL is the toughest league to survive in as it relates to officiating football games, but the college game is a horse of a different color. Saturday, that horse was green. The good 'ole boy network in college football officiating is alive and well, and Saturday in Eugene is a great example of this claim.

***

Now it is time to put this matter to rest. Let's let it go. We really need to move on. Middle Tennessee State doesn't give a damn about what happened in Oregon to OU.

Middle Tennessee State has the chance to win the biggest football game in their school's history if our player's minds are still on pacific time and their bodies are in Norman come kickoff at 6:07 central time Saturday night.

Texas is probably having mini-celebrations about our proctology exam in Oregon last Saturday. But that's my bad as this Saturday is NOT October 7, but September 23. I apologize. (But you know the burnt orange wearing Steers fans are relishing in any Sooner misery. They always have.)

Many national columnists, TV types and radio talkers, including some who do both in OKC, are thinking that we have made enough of the travesty perpetrated upon our football program last week. Everyone has the right to their opinion, whether it is the popular opinion or not. I am sure that some local writers sincerely believe what they write while others feel the need to be controversial to serve multiple media masters and garner radio ratings via the columns they write.

Personally, I am ready to move forward. This Duck business has worn me out and during the greatest time of the year. OU Football around our house is much akin to Christmas, and Saturday I will man our BBQ Trailer in front of the old field house and then at night I will be sitting at Owen Field ready to watch my team play and get back on the winning track.

My guts say this team will play with passion and a burning desire to regain their much needed swagger. Sooner Swagger is directly connected to Sooner Magic. I don't think you can have one without the other.

If getting jobbed at Oregon and hearing the national and some local media infer that our "overrated" Sooners have whined too much this week doesn't motivate this team to rise to the occasion this Saturday night, then we really do have major issues. It is indeed Slobber-Knocker time for our Sooners.

***

It doesn't bother me to be ripped by critics because of what I write in this space or my "blind loyalty" to the Sooners. I am a fan. I am not a professional writer nor do I make my living as a journalist, but I am a "believer" and I "believe" this team can still win the rest of its games. Crazier things have happened. If you don't believe me just watch the TiVo copy of the OU game last Saturday. Case closed.

BOOMER SOONER!

J.R.

Editor's Note: To check out more of J.R's football thoughts and predictions go to jrsbarbq.com


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