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Fiesta Fiasco
Rick Reilly
January 13, 2003
There is slow: the imperceptible yellowing of the Mona Lisa. There is slower: the inches-per-year movement of the great glaciers. And then there is football game official Terry Porter.
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January 13, 2003

Fiesta Fiasco

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There is slow: the imperceptible yellowing of the Mona Lisa. There is slower: the inches-per-year movement of the great glaciers. And then there is football game official Terry Porter.

Last Friday night at the Fiesta Bowl, field judge Porter took four seconds to call pass interference on the play that decided the national championship. Four seconds! That's a setting on a microwave: Muffin, Pop-Tart, Terry Porter Deciding National Championship.

In all my years of watching overweight, bespectacled guys in striped shirts fling flags after pass plays, I've never seen a flag flung so flagrantly late. You felt like you could've assembled a ship in a bottle in that time. Mowed your lawn with toenail clippers. Painted Red Square.

It was Ohio State's last chance in the first overtime. Fourth-and-hopeless. The pass was headed for the corner of the end zone. Buckeyes receiver Chris Gamble and Miami cornerback Glenn Sharpe both went up, but the ball clunked to the earth.

The line judge standing at the goal line immediately signaled incomplete pass. The world then turned to Porter, positioned in the rear corner of the end zone, to see if he would call pass interference. He did not. Game over. Season over. Fireworks went off. Miami players leaped into each other's arms, dog-piled, hoisted the Gatorade cooler to drench their coach. The national championship was theirs. The winning streak was alive, at 35.

And then Porter finished his crossword, put down his cup of coffee and threw his yellow pocket square.

"I couldn't believe it," said NFL Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow, father of the Hurricanes' tight end of the same name. "I saw the ball land. Looked at the ref. Saw he wasn't going to call anything. Celebrated. Turned again. Still didn't see a flag. Celebrated some more. Turned again, and then saw the flag. Unbelievable."

Porter's two-ounce swatch of yellow meant that torrential rivers of people and confetti and emotion had to be suddenly reversed. Unbridled jubilation had to be siphoned back into the bottle. Cloud nine emptied.

Hundreds of Miami fans who had charged to the middle of the field had to be rounded up and put back in the stands. Tight end David Williams was doing an interview when he heard that no, it ain't over even when it's over. Running back Jarrett Payton had sprinted to the Miami student section and was going bonkers with his schoolmates when a lone Ohio State fan in a red sweatshirt yelled at him, "You gotta go back on the field!"

So, Terry, why did it take as long as a Wagnerian opera to throw the flag? "I replayed it in my mind," Porter told the Associated Press pool reporter after the game. "I wanted to make double sure it was the right call."

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