That’s what Tony Washington thought he was doing shortly following a sack late in Oregon’s previous game against Arizona. But instead, as his teammates were leaving the field and Arizona was prepping for a field goal attempt that’d break the 24-24 tie, the Pac-12 officiating crew thought it necessary to flag Washington for unsportsmanlike conduct, alter the outcome of a tightly contested game, and forever paint Washington in an unfavorable light for a fan base left with “what if.”
This week, much has been made of Arizona’s back-to-back wins over Oregon, Rich Rodriguez’ spell over the Ducks, and the smack-talk which followed the game October 2nd, but little has been made of Washington’s faux pas and even less of the timing of a call not seen since.
And I've been watching.
Since that bow…from midfield…towards the Oregon bench and home crowd, I've seen similar, if not identical gestures made during games and by numerous players. Some innocuous, some directed at fellow teammates, and some in the face of opponents and their fans, but none…allow me to repeat that, NONE have been flagged for taunting or unsportsmanlike conduct the way Tony Washington was that night.
Does that excuse the action? Maybe for some, after-all while I’m not a fan of the type of “look at me” celebrations widespread in today’s games, others are less offended by such and consider it harmless fun for kids of a different era. Regardless, it isn't so much that it was called (although I don’t think it warranted it), but rather when it was and how it affected a game in its most critical state.
If you’re going to call that with four minutes remaining, with the game tied at 24, it better be egregious and it better be at the expense of an opposing player. Neither was the case that night, and due to such the game would've been better served by a level of discretion that referee lacked in that moment.
After the game, Coach Helfrich tip-toed around the topic by merely saying that, “There’s probably nothing worthwhile in life, and zero in football that’s done individually.” Regarding life; highly debatable, however regarding football I tend to agree, but also realize that’s unfortunately a sentiment likely left for curmudgeons like me to speak of in the past tense.
I don’t know Tony Washington, and have no reason to think he’s anything but upstanding. He’s never struck me as a me-first guy, and until that moment the night of October 2nd had never been anything more than a tireless worker on a defensive line looking for respect. When asked last week prior to the Civil War, whether trash-talk was something he expected against Oregon State, Washington said, “Not really. It just kinda depends on the player.” He continued, “For me, I’m not really a chatter kind of guy.” Not something you’d expect to hear from a player looking for attention, and not something typically from a guy guilty of one of the more infamous penalties in recent Oregon history.
As it turned out, the penalty has become less penal and the result of it less damaging, due to Oregon’s continued viability in the race for the ultimate prize. But while the conference title and life in the race for a national championship are on the line Friday night, Tony Washington also has an opportunity to exorcise the demons of a play inconsistent with his behavior, yet one that he’ll notoriously be remembered for.
Was that unsportsmanlike conduct? Did Washington’s behavior warrant the type of penalty that turns the tide of a game? And if so, why have referees nationwide failed to view similar actions in the way in which the Pac-12 zebras did the night of Oct. 2nd? We may never know, but Friday night offers Oregon a shot at a conference title, their quarterback a shot at the game’s most historic trophy, and Tony Washington a chance to put-to-bed a few unfortunate seconds he’d certainly like to have back.
I’m wishing him luck.