October 6, a day that will forever live in infamy in America’s heartland.
Not because it marked the first time in American history that a train was robbed (1866, the Reno Gang nabbed more than $10,000 from a train in Indiana) but because of a robbery that would take place 124 years later.
Not on a train or in a bank, but on a football field.
Before any of the undergrads walking the campus at Missouri were even a glimmer in their parents’ eyes, the Tigers were victim of one of the most egregious calls in sports history; the infamous fifth down.
And, to make it worse, it happened in Columbia, Mo.
For the frat boys playing Edward Fortyhands and skipping class that are too young to know the madness that this three-tie, eight-lead change game was, here’s a quick rundown.
On this day in 1990, Missouri led No. 12 Colorado 31-27 and time was winding down. Quarterback Charles Johnson completed a pass to Jon Boman who was tackled at the one-yard line for a first down.
Johnson then spiked the ball to stop the clock.
On second down, Colorado running back Eric Bieniemy was stuffed short of the goal line. The Buffaloes called a timeout, which is where the error occurred.
Rather than the next play being third down, the chain crew failed to switch the down marker from second down to third down. So on the next play, officially second down, Bieniemy was stuffed again, forcing Johnson to spike the ball on what was officially third down, but actually fourth down, with two seconds left. But, because the chains were one down behind, the Buffs were given a fifth down, in which Johnson plunged into the end zone, capping a 33-31 win.
Confused? So were the 46,000 fans in attendance…
Colorado won its final seven games, going undefeated in the Big 8 and sharing the national championship with Georgia Tech. The Tigers lost four of their final six and failed to make a bowl game.
This started a trend.
The Buffs went to bowl games for the next eight years, while Missouri toiled in mediocrity with six straight losing seasons.
Not that this loss changed the course of Mizzou football history, but it certainly didn’t help. The Tigers already owned a win over No. 21 Arizona State, so there’s no telling what a home win over the nationally-ranked Buffs could have done to turn around a poor start to the Bob Stull era.
Today, in the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, it is safe to assume another fifth down will never occur again.
But, can you imagine the national response if it did?
Let’s mourn one of the worst blunders of the century, in that debacle of a game 25 years ago. But, let’s also praise the football gods for instant replay, national television broadcasts and slightly attentive chain crews.
25 years later: If you ever wondered what the Fifth Down looks like in the play-by-play… pic.twitter.com/H9NlaNquAQ
— Mizzou Athletics (@MizzouAthletics) October 6, 2015