This story begins in 1974.
It goes back to 1914 in an indirect way, but it begins in 1974.
Michigan and Ohio State were in the middle of The Ten-Year War, the label given to the games the Wolverines and Buckeyes played from 1969 through 1978 under legendary coaches Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. The Maize and Blue and the Scarlet and Gray reached the Rose Bowl in each of those 10 seasons, part of a 13-season streak (1968 through 1980, encompassing the 1969 through 1981 Rose Bowl games) in which either Michigan or Ohio State represented the Big Ten in Pasadena.
Michigan trailed the 1974 game in Columbus, 12-10, in the final 20 seconds. Wolverine kicker Mike Lantry booted a 33-yard field goal well above the top of the uprights, which were much smaller back then in most college football stadiums. Some people will look at this kick and say it was good. Yet, it’s reasonable (perhaps charitable, but ultimately reasonable) to say that the limited video on the ABC broadcast was inconclusive:
The live footage of the kick appears at 1:12 in the video, but there’s much more to see, beginning at 1:20, when another Michigan player — the holder for the kick — goes to the official, expressing obvious disbelief that the kick was ruled no good. Then absorb the visuals from the next 70 seconds, as Lantry is left to shoulder the heartbreak of seeing Ohio State players celebrate a kick he thought he made. Substitute any kicker for Lantry — any kicker who has ever played college football, but especially those who have lived in the age of television and even more particularly in this current age of the internet and social media. Contemplate and then comprehend the pain and the injustice of a made kick being ruled no good in that kind of a situation.
Again, was Lantry’s kick clearly good? Let’s be reasonable and say, “Not quite.” Yet, let’s be just as reasonable and say, “A ruling of ‘not good’ was highly questionable.” That was a 33-yard kick from the outer portion of the far hashmark, which was much wider in college football before being moved a few yards toward the middle of the field in 1993.
Kickers had to kick a relatively short field goal at an angle if they were kicking from the far-side hashmark in pre-1993 college football. Lantry’s kick seemed to match that description, and the kick didn’t seem to veer too far to the left as it approached the left upright. The flight of the ball had likely reached the middle of the end zone, roughly four to six yards from the crossbar in terms of distance. If the kick wasn’t good — and one should allow for the possibility it wasn’t — that late veer to the left must have been very sharp.
College football historian and author John U. Bacon offered commentary on the kick. The particularly salient part of his remarks echoes what was said above: If the kick was in fact good, Lantry was deprived of a moment and saddled with an awful burden — not the worst burden a young man can ever carry, but certainly one he didn’t deserve.
Here’s Mr. Bacon:
Go back, though, to the previous video of the kick itself and move to the 2:39 mark. Notice how the two officials near the uprights are standing one yard to the side. They were understandably anticipating a slanted, directional kick, but the point remains that the official near the left upright was not directly under the upright when the ball arrived. This created an imperfect assessment of the kick, be it right or wrong.
Let’s be fair to the officials from 1974 on one point: It was not reasonable to insist at the time that small upward-looking cameras should be affixed to the uprights. This was a pre-replay age in college football. Television coverage of the sport was not pervasive. Television money didn’t flow through the sport like water. This was not something the sport would get to know until the 1990s and especially in more recent years.
Today, though, it should be different.
Today, a sport awash in television dollars should be able to spare four small cameras per FBS game, two on each upright.
Today, if the sport isn’t willing to spend money on small cameras, it should then be willing to add several more yards to the uprights. They were extended before — they can be extended again.
In the modern age, there’s really no excuse to get a field-goal call wrong. Yet, everything that was in evidence in 1974, before the emergence of advanced and adequate replay technologies, came rushing back to the present moment this past weekend in New Haven, Conn.
Army and Yale, two programs that have both enjoyed dynastic periods in the long and colorful history of college football, met for the 46th time on Saturday. The history-soaked game was arranged to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl stadium, whose end zones for this game were marked “2014” and “1914.” Yale, it could be said, was the first great dynasty in college football history, losing only 12 games in 22 seasons from 1888 through 1909. Yale and its stadium reach back to the beginnings of college football’s creation under Walter Camp.
When Yale ruled the sport, there was no way to ensure that field goals would be called properly. Today, 100 years after the opening of the Yale Bowl, this should not be an issue. Today, 40 years after the Michigan-Ohio State game of 1974, this should not be a problem.
Yet, via Student Section contributor Kevin McGuire, look at this 42-yard field goal by Army’s Daniel Grochowski, called no good at the end of regulation in a 43-43 tie. McGuire offered two angles from the Fox College Sports Atlantic broadcast:
Angle No. 1:
A slow motion replay of Army field goal attempt… https://t.co/bMl3EQy87Q
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) September 29, 2014
Angle No. 2:
And here is the reverse angle of that Army field goal try vs. Yale. https://t.co/g1PRUF4mnY
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) September 29, 2014
Notice anything about angle number two? It kinda looks like Mike Lantry from 1974.
This isn’t 1914, and it sure isn’t 1974. We’re in the modern age, the 21st century, and we still can’t gain clarity on field-goal rulings. Maybe these kicks from 1974 and 2014 weren’t good — again, the point of this whole piece is not to insist that the kicks in question were clearly good; they weren’t. Yet, the Mike Lantrys and Daniel Grochowskis of the world deserve clarity, one way or the other.
Cameras on uprights. Taller uprights. College football can do these things. It hasn’t, and the sport continues to suffer as a result, 100 years after the Yale Bowl’s first season.
College football’s ability to reach deep into the past is so often a virtue. Yet, its ability to refuse to adjust to the present day is so often an affirmation of that awful reminder of human beings’ flaws: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”