It would be tempting to describe an event that took place on this date nineteen years ago as a simple miscarriage of justice. But a closer inspection of the facts surrounding the event will show it to be at once both far less and so much more. (Try wrapping your heads around that sentence.) While I abhor raising the happenings in the world of sports to too high a level of importance as well as the hero-worshipping of big time athletes, there are rare occasions when important life lessons can be gleaned from the world of sports. For example, it is sometimes good not to wear thousands of dollars in jewelry into the club so that you don’t have to carry your unlicensed concealed weapon inside the waist of your pants, and you don’t accidently shoot yourself in the leg and end up getting sentenced to two years in prison. I know it might be tough to figure out when one of these cases might be because a person has to wear his, or her, bling, but I’m sure such a case does exist. Keep searching…
But there I’ve gone and lost my train of thought for a moment. My apologies. Some of you may possess exceptional memories and then again, some of you out of curiosity may have already searched to find out what happened on this date nineteen years ago, but for those of you to whom neither applies, I will tell you that today is the nineteenth anniversary of a college football game between the Missouri Tigers and the Colorado Buffalos known as the Fifth Down Game.
The Fifth Down Game is termed thusly because near the end of the game, in fact on the very last timed play of the game, Colorado was inexplicably awarded a fifth down on which they scored a touchdown, which may or may not have been a real touchdown since it was questionable whether the Colorado player even got into the end zone (it apparently took the officials nearly twenty minutes to decide whether the Colorado player had broken the plane of the goal line with the ball), and in the course was awarded a victory, 33-31, that the team clearly did not deserve.
Now this sort of win by cheating would not be such a big deal if this was the type of Colorado Buffaloes team that we all have come to know and love, the kind of team that needs to cheat in order to have any chance at all to win. No, believe it or not, Colorado was actually once a respectable football team. With the “win” in the Fifth Down Game, Colorado would improve its record to 3-1-1 (but really only 2-2-1) and would go on to finish 11-1-1 (really only 10-2-1, and if you ask some Notre Dame fans, it really should have only been 9-3-1) and somehow gained a share of the mythical national championship even though Georgia Tech finished a legitimate 11-0-1. Let’s recap; Georgia Tech finished undefeated at 11-0-1 and Colorado finished 11-1-1 but it was clear that they should have finished no better than 10-2-1. And yet somehow Colorado gained a share of the national championship. Such a sham.
But something has happened since then. Many of you will have noticed that since that time, with a very few exceptions, Colorado has been a terrible football team. Colorado lacked integrity back then, and that lack of integrity has cursed them from that point forward. If Colorado wanted to know how a team with integrity should behave, they only needed to have looked fifty years before their fateful game with Missouri.
In 1940, an epic game took place between the Big Green of Dartmouth and the Big Red of Cornell in Hanover, New Hampshire. Cornell was a powerhouse team, coming in ranked second in the Associated Press poll and sporting an eighteen game winning streak. Well, Cornell trailed late in the game 3-0, but given a fifth down, they were able to score a touchdown and with the extra point appeared to win the game 7-3. However, the Cornell Big Red, being a team of integrity and not being cheaters, reviewed what had taken place in the game and decided that since they were unfairly given a fifth down, they would forfeit the game to Dartmouth. That is precisely what a team with integrity would do.
Integrity is something that should be valued above all else. Separated by a span of fifty years, we have two examples of opportunities in which two college football teams had the chance to denounce cheating and behave as programs of integrity. Cornell chose to behave as such a team of integrity; Colorado chose to behave like cheaters.Here we now are about a third of the way through this year’s college football season and it is clear that each of these teams has been justly rewarded for the legacies of their actions surrounding their Fifth Down Games. Cornell sits at 2-1 with a very good chance of finishing in the top five of the hallowed Ivy League, but they do face a tough matchup this coming Saturday against the powerful two-time-defending-Ivy-League-champion Harvard Crimson. Colorado sits at 1-3 with a very good chance of finishing outside the top five…of the Big 12…North Division…out of six teams. Integrity matters.
Journal Entry: I’d like to thank the very good people at the Wikipedia for doing the research for me about the Fifth Down Games. Other than that, I forgot what I was originally going to say here, so I’ll just blast Colorado a bit more. I know just about everyone reading this will agree with me that giving Colorado even a share of the national title after by all rights finishing 10-2-1 while another team finished 11-0-1 is a bit of a joke. This is irrespective of Colorado having “played a more difficult schedule.” They lost a game and almost certainly should have lost two. Georgia Tech had zero losses. Zero. How pollsters can overlook the Colorado loss and highly suspicious “win” against Missouri is mystifying. Ordinarily I believe that the Coaches’ poll is a complete charade in college football, but on this occasion, I would have to side with the coaches and not the AP in the national championship poll results.