He has never met Gordon Riese. He has not seen the video. What he knows of Replaygate comes from wire stories published in the local paper. But J.C. Louderback reads about the replay official's struggle to come to grips with mistakes that altered two teams' destinies, and he understands. "Nobody feels worse than (Riese) does," Louderback says. Almost 16 years ago, Louderback was the referee who gave Colorado the Fifth Down. As time expired, a touchdown on that extra down stripped Missouri of an upset and sent the Buffs to a share of the national championship. Now 72 and retired in Arkansas City, Kan., Louderback remembers the dread that slowly overtook him afterward, during a seven-hour drive home. The talking heads on the radio confirmed what he had begun to suspect. When Louderback got home and popped in the videotape, he felt sick. And all these years later, here's the thing: "The feeling never has gone away," he says. Perhaps you've read of Riese's growing suspicion last Saturday night, during the two-hour drive up Interstate 5 from Eugene, Ore., to his home in Portland, that he had committed a catastrophic error. You've heard of his sleepless nights, of his skyrocketing blood pressure. You know about the harassing calls, including death threats, which prompted him to call the police and unplug the phone. Maybe you're sympathetic. If you're a Sooner fan, probably not. Nationally, a guy who was once the dean of Pac-10 referees has become a punch line. Here in Oklahoma, he's something much more sinister. Louderback — once considered one of the very best Big Eight refs — understands. Have you heard the one about the high school calculus teacher who couldn't count to five? Louderback has. Countless times. And from Mizzou fans, he's heard much worse. The Internet hadn't yet arrived, thank goodness. But Louderback got phone calls and letters. His wife, Donna, screened both, hanging up on irate callers, tossing dozens of "nasty" notes into a sack. Louderback read one. "Nobody feels worse than I do," he told Donna. "So why read that over and over again?" But Louderback still has the sack full of venom. One day, he will sit down and read the letters. Just to try to figure out what motivated people to write them. "It was tough on a lot of people, for who knows what reasons," he says. And it's been tough on Louderback. But not devastating. After five or six years, the harassing phone calls finally stopped. And in the last few years, even the nosy reporters who once called, like clockwork, each year before the Missouri-Colorado game, have lost interest. Suspended along with his crew for one game, Louderback finished the 1990 season, then retired from the Big Eight — officially, because of an age requirement — but continued officiating in Conference USA through the 1999 season. These days, Louderback finds himself in "grandkid mode." Kyle plays football at Southwestern Oklahoma State — a team captain and a pretty fair tight end who's caught a few balls, grandpa allows. Kali plays tennis for Notre Dame — nationally ranked, boasts granddad, who taught her the game. When J.C. attends their games, people sometimes still approach him with a carefully worded question. "Do you remember the game at Missouri?" they ask. "Yeah, I remember," he tells them. And then they depart, as sheepishly as they arrived. "It's like, ‘Gosh, I got to meet the guy who fouled it up,' " says Louderback, chuckling. He knows the Fifth Down isn't going away. One day, it will be a part of Louderback's obituary. "It's not going to be forgotten," he says. That sick feeling remains. But as Louderback accepted the blame then, he accepts the legacy now. "I took the brunt of it," he says. "And it's OK. I've done a lot of things since then." And this, then, is Louderback's message to a man he doesn't know, immersed in a controversy he understands very well. "You've got to go on," he says, talking to Riese. "You do not want to let that destroy your life, or everything that you've been successful with. Don't let that happen."
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