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M-I-Z... E-R-Y: The Fifth Down vs Hearnes' Last Game

In the words of Talib Kweli, stay strong, this ain't for the faint-hearted. We're just about two-thirds of the way through this epic, karma-cleansing exercise.

Kansas 84, Mizzou 82 (2004)

Sad A.J. I

So I've already written about both of today's candidates before, in this uplifting "Worst Moments of the Decade" post. Allow me to quote myself.

A furious February rally (punctuated by this disgusting dunk and an exhilarating 2OT win over an Oklahoma State team that would end up in the Final Four) had Mizzou on the doorstep of the NCAA Tournament despite Belmont, the cloud of Ricky Clemons, and everything else that had happened to Mizzou that season. Despite a late road loss to Texas Tech, a win over KU would probably still get Mizzou into the NCAA Tournament thanks to the late hot streak and a great strength of schedule. Really, it was the perfect setup. Senior day for Arthur Johnson, Travon Bryant and Rickey Paulding. The final game ever at Hearnes. Here's where Mizzou saves its season.

The setup got even more perfect when Mizzou trailed by ten with 5:00 left before rallying furiously to tie the game. AJ had a career high 37 points and was absolutely fabulous down the stretch, making six of six free throws to bring Mizzou back. KU got the ball last, but Keith Langford was too well-covered to get a shot off, so he had to pass it to far-from-offensively-dominant freshman David Padgett ...

... who calmly knocked down an awkward-looking 10-foot line drive with two seconds left. KU stole the inbounds pass, and just like that, it was over. Mizzou's season, the Hearnes era, all of it. Over at the hands of Kansas. That this moment DIDN'T end up in the top five says a lot about the middle part of this decade.

Colorado 33, Mizzou 31 (1990)

Asked about the five downs, head referee J.C. Louderback deferred all comments to the Big Eight office, then said, "Our record on the field as officials is that they scored on fourth down."

Asked if there was any provision in the rules to remove a touchdown once scored, he added, "Only if there would be a penalty at that point."

There was none - and No. 12-ranked CU won its third consecutive game (4-1-1 overall) and its Big Eight opener. Afterwards, CU coach Bill McCartney emerged from his locker room and preferred to berate Faurot Field's artificial surface rather than address the five-down fiasco.

"The biggest story is that field is not playable," bellowed McCartney, referring to CU ball carriers or receivers losing their footing at least 15 times. "No one should have to play on that field. You can't even make a cut on that dang field.

"It's a joke to college football to try to run an option attack on that field. We slipped and slid all day, or we would have put more points on the board; I'll tell you that."

Retaliated MU coach Bill Stull: "They get five downs and he's crying? We should have stopped them on fifth down."

Hey Coach, you did.

What made the Fifth Down such an infuriating moment in Mizzou's history wasn't even that the Buffs got an extra down. Or it wasn't just because of that. If Johnson had scored easily on fifth down, and if Bill McCartney had expressed nothing but conciliatory regret after the game, it still would have been a historic occurrence. But Johnson didn't score easily on fifth down -- he almost certainly didn't score at alll -- and McCartney announced that his team basically deserved an extra down because of the shoddy playing surface. (And then Colorado won the national title, in part, because of another iffy-at-best call that enraged Mizzou fans all over again.)

The Fifth Down was the call that set off, basically, two decades of self-pity within the Missouri fanbase. Mizzou fans were already somewhat paranoid and guarded, feeling by nature as if they were basically playing by a different set of rules than everybody else. This game confirmed that, at least for one play, they were.