I would rate Minnesota fans as very strong in the area of tracing defeats suffered by the local teams to poor officiating. I also would give my colleague Sid Hartman credit for being a leader for our fandom in this category.
Sid was the state’s most-influential person in the sports media though the second half of the 20th Century, as we grew in major league status and generations of fans came to believe the referees were out to get us.
You couldn’t really say a Gophers football game in the Metrodome had started until Sid took note of his beloved maroon and gold getting robbed, and went climbing over people in the press box to find Roy Tutt to verbalize a complaint.
Tutt was in the recreation department at the university, and also was the Big Ten’s “observer’’ of officiating for Gophers football games. He would sit in a nook in the second row of the Dome’s press box, shielded behind a large post, but poor Roy couldn’t hide from Sid.
Tutt’s location was next to the unisex one-holer that served as the Dome’s restroom in the press box. When making a stop at the relief station, I would always ask of Roy:
“How many visits have you received from the Great Man today, questioning the work of the gentlemen with the flags?’’
If it was the first half, Roy’s answer would be, “a couple.’’ If it was the second half and the outcome for the Gophers still was in the balance, the answer would be, “several.’’
The Gophers’ 27-season (1982-2008) stay in the Dome was mostly forgettable, but there was a show of persistence that lives in infamy for reporters lucky enough to have been in attendance that day:
Can’t remember the exact game, but you knew something was going on when Sid gathered up his belongings (including his still-in-use-today, 5-pound tape recorder) and made his way toward the steps leading to the Dome’s lower level.
A few minutes later, the Gophers’ hard-fought loss was complete, and Sid – pushing 70 by then – could be seen racing after the officials as they headed toward the stairwell required to get to the locker room level.
Those of us still in the press box cheered in tribute to Sid’s determination, as I recall.
It also should be remembered that it was Sid’s reaction to the most-notorious, we-wuz-robbed moment in Vikings history that caused a change in the manner in which the NFL allowed access to officials after a game.
The Vikings were playing Dallas in a playoff opener on Dec. 29, 1975 at Met Stadium. You might have heard about it.
The Cowboys scored in other-worldly fashion for a 17-14 victory. Drew Pearson’s push-off to make the catch and score the winning touchdown so outraged the fans that Armen Terzian, the nearest official, was struck in the head with a whiskey bottle tossed from the small, right-field bleacher.
Terzian’s head was cut. Postgame, he was in the officials locker room. There was a bandage around his noggin and it was swathed in blood.
Back then, reporters could knock on the door of the refs’ locker room and, if admitted, enter and ask a question. I’m not sure Sid knocked; I know that he did enter, not so much to ask a question but to state an opinion on the Pearson play.
Thereafter, the NFL created a system where a designated pool reporter might be permitted to ask a question, if the referee of the crew and the NFL’s on-site observer were of a mood to permit it.
What I’m saying here to Minnesota fans is Sid has been fighting for you through his remarkably long career, and I’m sure he is siding strongly with Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and her opinion that the defending champs were robbed on Thursday night at Target Center.
Yes, Cheryl did give it the traditional “I’m not taking anything away from [the winners],’’ as she complained vehemently about the LA Sparks’ bucket by Nneka Ogwumike that came at 1:14 and a fraction after the shot clock expired.
That not-to-take-anything-away disclaimer is always meaningless. Reeve’s real message to her team’s followers – and Minnesotans in general – was that her team deserved to be the winner.
Admittedly, I’ve done my share of pointing out flawed officiating and umpiring during 50 years of covering sports, but I’ve also come to understand this:
Teams pinning a loss on officiating usually had a chance to win said game and didn’t make the winning play.
The Lynx had that chance. They had a 76-75 lead in the final seconds. Ogwumike took a shot from the edge of the lane and was hacked.
There was no whistle. The no-call there – intentional or not – was the officials’ method of evening up things for Ogwumike’s jumper being counted at 1:14.
Ogwumike could have paused for a gesture of complaint to the nearest official. She didn’t. She determinedly got the ricochet and put it in for a game-winning field goal with 3.1 seconds remaining.
Get the loose ball -- get one of the numberous rebounds on the Lynx defensive board lost to the Sparks -- and the home team is the champ again.
“It’s unfortunate we’re having this discussion (about the officiating),’’ said Reeve, who was more responsible than anyone for making the officiating Topic A after what the league’s hardcore followers were telling us was the finest “Finals’’ in the 20-year history of the league.
Hey, at least none of the three officials got beaned with a whiskey bottle as they escaped the Target Center court, so our decorum in defeat has improved in the past four decades.