It Only Took A Quarter-Decade for The Fifth Down Receipt


Today marks the 25th anniversary of the infamous “Fifth Down” game between Colorado and Missouri (h/t @ESPNStatsInfo); arguably the most notorious and impacting officiating blunder in college football history.

Bad calls happen in every game, across all sports. They’re unavoidable, and always will be.

Spare me the human element argument. Try arguing the infallibility of technology the next time your GPS sends you to the wrong Chipotle or your DVR inexplicably deletes the entire final season of Gilmore Girls from your hard drive.

Referees will always get something wrong. As I wrote last week in the wake of the poorly called Texas-Oklahoma State game, the degree to which they error and the measures they take to correct said errors are the critical points.

That said, I cannot wrap my head around an entire crew, and seemingly dozens of others in the stadium that October day, messing up something as fundamental as counting.

Perhaps the officiating crew in Columbia that fateful afternoon didn’t lose the ability to count, so much as they borrowed a down from a game to be played at a later date. That can be the only explanation behind both the Fifth Down, and Illinois’ three-down drive Saturday against Nebraska.

Yes, somehow failure to count downs again became an issue in the Illini’s 14-13 win. Head coach Bill Cubit was forced to attempt a fourth-down conversion that failed, giving Nebraska possession.

The Big Ten apologized for the “breakdown in officiating mechanics.” Way too many syllables for this situation, Big Ten.

Just say, “our officials forgot how to count to four, so we’ve hired The Count as special adviser to the conference’s referees.”

OK, so Illinois’ situation isn’t so simple as the officiating crew skipping Sesame Street years ago. Illinois had, upon review actually converted a first down that was previously marked as second-and-1. The problem was, apparently, no one on the field was made aware.

Way to go, technology.

As for the Fifth Down, commemorates the event’s silver anniversary, fittingly with five facts about that day.