Best College FB Games Ever; Did Police Have Courage to Move in Winston Case?

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The Best College Football Games Ever

By Robert Weintraub
Some folks tackled their kids or ran outside with no shoes on. My response to that incredible Iron Bowl on Saturday was to make a list. Where does Auburn’s victory rank on the ladder of greatest college football games ever?

In 1963, instant replay made its broadcast debut during the CBS telecast of the Army-Navy game. So in honor of that signal moment in history, we’re confining this list to games played in the 50 years since then — after all, what fun would these fantastic finishes have been without seeing them in slo-mo? We’re also weighting them based on the endings. Some games were titanic collisions of powerhouses that ended in matter-of-fact fashion. This particular list instead tips the cap to the wild and wooly, the games that had more twists and turns than the Nurburgring racetrack. But import is certainly a factor — a national championship game outweighs the Iron Bowl, for example.

It is fifteen deep, one for each second it took Chris Davis to traverse the Jordan-Hare gridiron and make history. And it should go without saying that this list could have easily encompassed three hundred or so games without breaking a sweat, so apologies to all the quality entries left out.

15. Navy 21, Army 15
Dec. 7, 1963
Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia

Why not start at (our artificial) beginning? That momentous instant replay game was also an instant classic, played with heavy hearts after the game was delayed a week after JFK’s murder. Navy, led by Heisman-winner Roger Staubach, led 21-7, but Army closed to 21-15, recovered an onside kick, and drove to the brink of victory. But the crowd noise generated by hyped Middies and Cadets so flustered Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh that the Black Knights incredibly mustered just one play in the final 58 seconds, and came up shy of the end zone. One can only imagine the recriminations today; I like to believe the JFK assassination would have tamped down the reaction had there been sports talk radio in 1963.
14. Harvard 29, Yale 29

Nov. 23, 1968

Harvard Stadium, Boston

Yale had Calvin Hill, Brian Dowling and a 29-13 lead with 42 seconds left. Harvard had Tommy Lee Jones and a what-the-hell? attitude. The Crimson scored a touchdown and two-point conversion, recovered an onside kick, and got another TD. With no time left, Harvard got another two-pointer to forge a shocking tie, one celebrated with the immortal headline in the following day’s student newspaper, “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.”
13. Georgia 26, Florda 21
Nov. 8, 1980
Gator Bowl Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

Fabulous freshman Herschel Walker was the key to the Bulldogs run to the national championship, but it never would have happened if not for Lindsay Scott. His 93-yard catch and run to beat hated rival Florida in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is the greatest play in Bulldog history. Folks in the Peach State have Larry Munson’s epic call memorized, stenciled on living room walls, engraved on tombstones, you name it… “Gonna throw on the run-complete on the 25. To the 30, Lindsay Scott 35, 40, Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40-Run, Lindsay!–25, 20, 15, 10, 5, Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!!”

12. USC 34, Notre Dame 31
Oct. 15, 2005
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

Many games from this great rivalry are in the running, but the “Bush Push” takes its place on this list thanks to the three memorable touchdown drives in the final five minutes, culminating with Matt Leinart’s sneak from a yard out on the game’s final play from scrimmage, extending the Trojans winning streak to 28. The score was considerably aided by Reggie Bush’s shove from behind, which alone may have won him the Heisman. The fact that USC later had to vacate the win thanks to Bush’s off-field peccadilloes takes nothing away from his part in this classic.
11. Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31
Nov. 25, 1971
Owen Field, Norman, Okla.

A game many consider the game’s greatest ever is penalized here for its comparatively sedate fourth quarter, but there is no doubt this was a Big 8 battle for the ages. Number one edged number two thanks to the incomparable Johnny Rodgers, whose early punt return TD is among the more memorable plays of its kind of all time (but was there a clipping penalty on the play?).

Regardless, Lyell Bremser’s radio call is legendary …

“Man, woman and child did that put them in the aisles!! Johnny ‘The Jet’ Rodgers just tore them loose from their shoes!!”

Jeff Kinney scored his fourth touchdown of the game to give the Huskers the lead with two minutes left, and then the “Blackshirts” sacked Sooners QB Jack Mildren twice to ice the game. Nebraska went on to win its second straight national championship a few weeks later.
10. BYU 46, SMU 45
Dec. 19, 1980
Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego

The Holiday Bowl would gain a reputation for tremendous games thanks to this insane epic. The Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James led the Mustangs to a 45-25 lead with 2:33 left. Enter BYU’s Jim McMahon. Two touchdown passes, an onside kick recovery and a blocked punt later, the Cougars had the ball, down six points. With time left for one play, McMahon heaved one to the end zone. Tight end Clay Brown skied to haul in the Hail Mary, and the PAT completed one of the most incredible comebacks of all time.
9. Florida 31, Florida State 31
Nov. 26, 1994
Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.

Back when this Sunshine State rivalry was annually among the biggest games on the board, FSU overcame a 31-3 deficit with a wild 28-point fourth quarter to tie the shocked Gators, a miraculous comeback dubbed “The Choke at Doak.” The Noles amazingly had the ball and were driving for the win, but ran out of time in Gators territory. The teams would rematch in the Sugar Bowl, with Florida State compounding Florida’s pain with a 23-17 win.
8. Boston College 47, Miami 45
Nov. 23, 1984
Orange Bowl, Miami

As a Thanksgiving weekend audience watched rapt, Doug Flutie and Bernie Kosar traded haymakers all day, despite a heavy rainstorm that soaked the field. Melvin Bratton’s fourth TD of the game gave the Canes a late four-point lead, but then came “55 Flood Tip,” the fabled Hail Mary from Flutie to Gerard Phelan. The modern scourge of a defining “Heisman Moment” was born as Phelan cradled the pass like a “first-born,” as Phelan later said. Flutie’s incredible bomb into gale-force winds as time elapsed is arguably the most famous play in college pigskin history, at least before Saturday.
7. Notre Dame 35, Houston 34
Jan. 1, 1979
Cotton Bowl, Dallas

Houston led 34-12, Texas was suffering through the frosty aftermath of a rare ice storm, and Joe Montana was sick to death. But the future Hall of Famer inhaled a bowl of chicken soup at halftime, and then turned in a performance only a mensch could achieve, leading the Irish to 23 points in a manic fourth quarter. Joe Cool hit Kris Haines with no time remaining to tie the game, and after a penalty, the PAT was true.

It was Montana’s final game for Notre Dame. Not a great draft prospect, most assumed this finale would be the lasting moment of his football career. They would be wrong.
6. California 25, Stanford 20
Nov. 20, 1982
Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.

The “Big Game” might not fire the rivalry emotions like the Iron Bowl or Michigan-Ohio State, but on this day, it was as good as any. John Elway, later to be renowned for his great late drives, led the Cardinal to a seemingly game-winning field goal by Mark Harmon, the kicker, not the actor (playing defense for Cal was “Riverboat Ron” Rivera, among others). Stanford’s celebration was excessive enough, even by early-80s standards, to draw a penalty, giving Cal a smidgen of hope.

Then came all the laterals, the band out on the field, the long, long discussion, and then Joe Starkey’s voice-shattering call on KGO-AM …

“AND THE BEARS!! THE BEARS HAVE WON! The Bears have won! Oh, my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending… exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football! California has won the Big Game over Stanford! Oh, excuse me for my voice, but I have never, never seen anything like it in the history of I have ever seen any game in my life! The Bears have won it! There will be no extra point!” Sure, it should have been a penalty on Cal. But who cares?

5. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42
Jan. 1, 2007
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

A hook-and-ladder TD in the dying seconds, a halfback-option pass in overtime, a Statue of Liberty two-point conversion to win the game — this Fiesta Bowl classic set the standard for David strategies employed by heavy underdogs. Boise threw everything it had at the heavily favored Sooners (led by the indomitable Adrian Peterson), including a marriage proposal from running back Ian Johnson to his cheerleader girlfriend. Had Chris Myers not accidentally ruined the surprise, this might have ranked higher.
4. Ohio State 31, Miami 24

Jan. 3, 2003
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

The Hurricanes thought they had repeated as national champs. A roster stacked with future NFL stars celebrated with hugs and helmet tosses.

Then someone noticed the flag.

Great endings often come with controversy, and no game in recent memory is as etched in debate as this BCS title clash in the Arizona desert. Was it truly pass interference on Miami defensive back Glenn Sharpe? Was field judge Terry Porter blind, ignorant, or merely deliberate in calling the penalty so late? Would the game have even been in overtime had future pariah Maurice Clarett not stripped the ball from Sean Taylor after a third quarter interception?

All rhetorical questions, as it happens. What did happen is that OSU outlasted The U in a breathless double overtime thriller to win the crystal football.
3. Auburn 34, Alabama 28
Nov. 30, 2013
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

Unless you were visiting your in-laws in Moldova for Thanksgiving — and perhaps even if you were — you know all about it by now.
2. Texas 41, USC 38
Jan. 4, 2006
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

Alabama’s recent dynasty has served to obscure the Men of Troy’s run to the cusp of three consecutive titles in the middle of the last decade (a hundred years ago in today’s world). The Trojans had won 34 consecutive games entering the BCS championship game in the Rose Bowl, and played well enough to win number 35, except for a performance for the ages by Texas quarterback Vince Young. Vinsanity ran for 200 yards, including the game-winning score on fourth-and-five with 19 seconds left, and threw for 267 more, outplaying Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, the winners of the last two Heisman Trophies.

In a 32-point fourth quarter, it was a defensive play that turned the game. With a touch over two minutes left, Southern Cal turned to its ball peen hammer, LenDale White, to convert a fourth-and-two to ice the game. White scored three TDs and averaged six yards a carry on the night, but on his final tote he was brought down just short of the sticks. Young breezed down the field, and the Horns had a stunning national championship.
1. Miami 31, Nebraska 30
Jan. 1, 1984
Orange Bowl, Miami

How to calculate the impact of social media, 24/7 sports media, and the general milieu of second-guessing that exists today, had it all existed when Tom Osborne went for two to win or lose the national championship? The whole “Internet would melt” cliche seems, for once, apt.

Top-ranked Nebraska, led by Irving Fryar, Mike Rozier and Turner Gill, came into the game overwhelming favorites to beat Howard Schnellenberger’s Hurricanes, then in its nascent-dynasty stage. But Miami, riding a huge home-field edge, raced to a big lead, only to have Nebraska inexorably reel them in, helped by a “fumblerooski” TD scored by Outland Trophy winner Dean Steinkuhler. Bernie Kosar responded by pushing the Canes back out to a 31-17 lead.

But the Huskers responded again, scoring on a fourth-and-eight option run to make the score 31-30 with 48 seconds left. A tie likely would allow Nebraska to win the title, but such a sullied victory didn’t sit well with Osborne. “We wanted a clear-cut national championship,” he said after the game. So he laid it all on the line with a Gill pass for two, which was batted down by Kenny Calhoun, giving The U its first title.

Oh, Twitter, where were you that sultry New Year’s night?


willie meggs

Selena Roberts
More from Selena
Lacking Courage To Move Forward

Willie Meggs announced Jameis Winston would not be charged in the 11-month-old sexual assault case against him, but did the police do their diligence in the investigation?

No one dusts for fingerprints anymore. They Google them. In an effort to unearth an electronic trail of lurid evidence that seems to routinely surface in high-profile sexual assault cases involving athletes these days, the faithful search out info from phone-cam videos, photos or tweets. Anything to help them reconcile the disturbing allegations with a player’s glossy on-field character.

But how can you square what you don’t see? When the rape allegations against Jameis Winston finally surfaced after 11 months, there was no public peep show before, during or after. Not a telling tweet. Not an incriminating video. Not a post of social media chatter. Nothing indiscreet emerged from anyone who knew something or witnessed something or Facebooked something about a December night last year when a woman went to police and reported being raped by a man identified as Winston in January.

On Thursday, Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs ended a drama no one knew about until a media request last month resurrected a case that strangely had been buried in an inactive file by the Tallahassee Police Department. In a press conference he called, Meggs was jarringly glib. On the same day ESPN decided to cancel Will Ferrell’s guest host spot as his “Anchorman 2” character on SportsCenter, in light of serious news events regarding the Winston case, Meggs didn’t miss a cue to crack a couple of jokes. When Meggs was focused, he said he would not charge the star quarterback for essentially two reasons: The woman’s memory lapses were “problematic” and the physical evidence couldn’t support the reasonable likelihood of a conviction.

Meggs didn’t openly criticize Tallahassee police for the time gap between the rape report and the moment he received the case in November, but he did say, “Time is important. It certainly would have been nice to have known all of the things we know now back in December.”

Who knew what back then? The accuser discovered resistance by a police detective who, according to her attorney Patricia Carroll, warned against going forward because Tallahassee was a “big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.”

But given the entire — and perhaps unnecessary — process to a delayed conclusion to close the case, it’s worth asking this: Who was really afraid to be raked over the coals? The alleged victim or the timid police?

Whether a rape accusation is against a football star or abusive boyfriend, a public official or deranged stranger, women brave the repercussions all the time to seek justice. I grew up in Tallahassee and never considered police to be blindingly friendly to The Program until now. There are rolling hills and quaint nooks, but Tallahassee has never been mistaken for Happy Valley, where Penn State could happen. Tallahassee is an academic town, anchored by Florida State and Florida A&M, but it’s also a government post, where the economy is boosted, but not dependent on, industrialized big-time football. In the past, Tallahassee’s finest had never hesitated to drop a hammer on FSU athletes whether they were involved in petty theft (see Laveranues Coles in 1999) or forgery (see Adrian McPherson in 2002). The police activity around the team once provoked this famous line then-from Coach Bobby Bowden, “I’m praying for a misdemeanor.”

So has anything changed? Have the police allowed The Program to police them? The stakes around Winston — from Heisman Trophy to BCS national title — also reflect an FSU football program searching to validate its decisions to join the NCAA arms race. As with almost any dominating state school, athletics officials spend a lot of political capital to get to the top. Nothing disrupts rah-rah prosperity like a sexual assault scandal. In this case, there was an undercurrent theme — if it’s not public, why out it? — as it sat on a back burner.

The public knew nothing. The alleged incident on this particular December night happened in what was essentially a social media blackout. It remained a well-kept secret in an American culture of spill-all, tell-all on the Web. What a relief for police. There was no pressure to do anything for almost a year.

“The social media aspect affects everything,” says Michael Levine, an expert in law enforcement procedure who spent more than 30 years as a supervisory agent for the FBI and other federal government agencies. “It goes from a post to the mainstream media in an instant. It affects public opinion. When you get a case that is being tried in the media like that, it might even affect the judge. It might even affect the prosecutor. They generally run for political office. Some prosecutors, not all, are politically minded. The pressure from the public in today’s social media culture can be immense.”

The swirl around Winston was very 1990s when pitched against today’s tech-built virtual public square. With a video cam whirring in a residence hall, you know police had a scene to feed allegations that Vanderbilt football players had sexually assaulted a woman at a dorm last year. Seeing tweets of braggadocio from the accused, you know a student told police that this was how she discovered her alleged assault, a revelation that led to recent charges against three Navy football players.

In Steubenville, Ohio, a case underscored by dehumanizing texts, videos and postings on the Web ignited a debate about the rape culture of sports entitlement. The trial by Twitter led to the conviction of two high school students in March. The social media DNA is a potent fuel to the frenzy. In Maryville, Mo., a special prosecutor was appointed in October to investigate why charges were dropped after the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by a high school football player, which was recorded by a cellphone.

Proof again: Digital memories can tell horror stories and reveal dark sides to a culture and stir critical debate. But these virtual breadcrumbs for the public don’t always determine innocence or guilt — a rigorous police investigation should accomplish that — yet the question remains: Is legal diligence possible in high-profile athlete cases?

“It’s difficult now seeing how everything has played out recently,” says Levine. “There was a turning point, I believe.” He cited two words: Duke Lacrosse.

The recent news about Jameis Winston will be a story about a football player who may or may not have done… More» In 2006, pitched against a political backdrop of elections, District Attorney Michael Nifong aggressively pursued rape charges against lacrosse players and falsified statements about evidence. The case against the players was dismissed and Nifong was disbarred. Nifong let himself be swept into a public tinder box of scenes from the party, including porn-style pictures taken on phones of an exotic dancer — accuser Crystal Mangum — and a disturbing email post depicting the skinning of strippers in an “American Psycho” reference. This was in addition to irrefutable accounts of racial slurs and sodomy jokes at the party and past misdemeanors involving the team.

As I noted in two opinion pieces for The New York Times, a no-crime, no-foul approach wasn’t the only answer to the Duke scandal although it was the most popular one by the lacrosse team supporters. Folks can still inspect and debate a dehumanizing culture even though what happened at Duke didn’t rise to a criminal case. I wrote in March 2007: “No one would want an innocent Duke player wronged or ruined by false charges — and that may have occurred on Nifong’s watch — but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive. Some readers argue no one would have known about the lacrosse team’s misogyny bash last year if not for the initial rape charges by the hired dancer. True, but that’s how we often discover what goes on behind the curtains: by a botched break-in, through a door left ajar.

A broken door was left ajar in Winston’s bedroom last December. Amid 86 pages of documents released by police on Thursday, there was this testimony in a police interview of Chris Casher, Winston’s roommate: He backed up the statement of Winston’s attorney that the sex was consensual, telling police he and FSU teammate Ron Darby peeked through the door and watched the woman give Winston oral sex. According to the police report, Casher stated that he went into the bedroom to ask if the woman would have sex with him, as well. “The female saw him and told him to get out,” the report says. “A little while later, Casher stated he tried to video tape Winston and the female; however, when the female saw him she again told him to leave.”

Imagine if that videotape existed? Would the lurid camera work have backed up Winston or shown distress by the woman who reported to police that the quarterback had held down her arms? In this case, there were no electronic evidence trails for the public to digest. There was nothing. No tweets, not a peep. No pressure from the public. What a relief for police — for 11 months, at least. As Carroll, the alleged victim’s attorney, said in a statement after Meggs’ decision, her client worries that this case as it unfolded will “discourage other victims of rape from coming forward and reporting.”

The accuser showed courage to go forward. But did the police?

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