Two months after the Oregon instant replay fiasco, he is answering the phone again. Irate Sooner fans ring him up just two or three times a week now. The death threats have stopped. The healing has begun. "It will never leave me," Gordon Riese says. "Until I die." On a day we set aside to count our blessings, some fans will no doubt continue cursing Riese, who was in charge of the botched review that cost Oklahoma victory on that September afternoon at Autzen Stadium. The Sooners have rebounded nicely from the stunning setback. But a 9-2 record should have been 10-1. Many fans see the current BCS picture and wonder, despite a loss to Texas, if OU wouldn't be at least on the fringe of the national title conversation. Who knows? But fans know why the Sooners are not. Riese does, too. "Everybody knows," he says. You remember how it went. OU ahead by six points, 72 seconds left, an onside kick, a collision. You saw Allen Patrick emerge with the football. You saw officials huddle. You watched countless replays. Stunned, you saw Oregon given the ball. You saw the Ducks score, and win. But there are some things, Riese says, you don't know. Although the Pac-10 has forbidden him to speak on the topic, Riese hints there's plenty of blame to go around. He says he saw just one replay angle of the onside kick. But he won't explain why that was, whether it was a technical or human error. The angle came from Oklahoma's end zone. From that vantage, Riese had no chance of determining whether, as he was asked, an Oregon player had touched the football before it traveled the required 10 yards. Later, after returning home, Riese finally saw the angles you and I saw. He already knew — just had that feeling officials get when a call is blown. He had stopped the game five times for replay reviews. This one? "This was the easiest call to make, if I'd have gotten the (correct) replay," Riese says. "It would have been the right call. It would have been the correct call. The Oregon kid touched the ball at the 44-yard line." But wait. It gets worse. From that end-zone shot, Riese couldn't answer the question he was asked. But he could tell Oregon didn't have the football. "I saw the ball laying on the ground, the Oklahoma kid picks the ball up with his knee on the ground," Riese says. "I knew it was Oklahoma ball." But here's the thing: By rule, Riese wasn't allowed to determine possession. Not after the officials had already given the ball to Oregon. Surely, Riese could have hinted of their mistake? Uh, no. During the review, Riese says, the referee asked him which team recovered the football. "It's something I can't get into," Riese told him. And it's something he won't let himself live down. Because all Riese wanted — and this was his philosophy during a 28-year, on-field career — was to get the call right. Some OU fans won't believe that, not ever. Much more satisfying are the theories involving evil men wearing Nike swooshes. No one wants to hear about technical glitches and restrictive rules and a replay official tormented by an error he felt powerless to correct. The second option is incompetence, which upon further review, doesn't seem to apply to Riese. Perhaps he should have short-circuited the process — going with the spirit of the rules, if not the letter — by telling the officials OU had recovered the ball. But he was following the rules, which is what officials are taught to do. Getting the call right? Following the rules? Those imperatives conflicted. "I can't let it go," Riese says. "It's something we officials have just been schooled with — to get the call right — and I didn't do it that day." Which is why the 64-year-old retired high school math teacher is almost finished with football after more than 30 years. Most OU fans probably don't want to hear that Riese grew up in North Dakota and Iowa as an admirer of OU football, that Barry Switzer once sought him out after a game at USC to compliment the officiating crew's work that day — an OU loss. All they know is OU lost when it should have won, and not even a pound of Riese's flesh will make up for it. Just so you know, that pound has been taken. Suspended for one game by the Pac-10, Riese has decided not to return to the replay booth. The $400 payday wasn't worth the headache. When the season ends, Riese's career will, too. "You can tell your Oklahoma people to stop calling me, and I am not going back into the replay booth," Riese says. But he also wants to tell you this: In the days and weeks following the debacle, he received 67 letters of encouragement, from all over. Wisconsin. Minnesota. Alabama. Florida. And yes, from Oklahoma. "I so appreciated the amount of letters I received from Oklahoma fans, positive statements," Riese says. By the way, Riese has kept up with the Sooners' season. He knows. "Oh, they're a good football team," he says. "My goodness sakes, they're a good football team." But he's not as concerned with what might have been as he is tormented by his role in what was. "I worry about the screwup we did in the Oklahoma game," Riese says. "It's inexcusable." And, he knows, inescapable.
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