While there may not have been million-dollar bowl game payoffs to consider, college football in 1940 was more than good sportsmanship and hail-fellows-well-met.
So when Colorado decided to accept last Saturday's 33-31 victory over Missouri -- a triumph that came when the Buffaloes scored on a fifth-down play inadvertently allowed by the officials -- it struck a sympathetic nerve in the beneficiaries of the last known such case.
"Back then it would have been outrageous to have thought of the money and things like the Orange Bowl that were riding on their game. Hope still springs eternal, but I don't know," said Bob Kane, former assistant athletic director at Cornell. "If it happened here today, knowing the coaching staff and people here I would think and hope they'd do the same thing, but I don't know."
Next weekend is the 50th anniversary of the game in which Cornell, ranked first in the nation with an 18-game winning streak, appeared to defeat Dartmouth, 7-3, on a last-second touchdown. Two days after the game, however, Kane and other school officials discovered that the Big Red had scored the winning points by virtue of an excess down. Within days they called Dartmouth and awarded it the victory.
In the aftermath, Cornell dropped to No. 4. Even worse, said Kane, "there was sort of a psychological burnout -- things fell apart emotionally after that." The following week, Cornell lost to Penn, 22-20.
Missouri is hoping to use its misfortune as a springboard to better things. Monday the Big Eight Conference decided Colorado's victory would stand; a short time later, according to Missouri Athletic Director Dick Tamburo, the Tigers decided to move on.
"We're in the Big Eight Conference and the rules are very specific and we abide by those rules," he said. "It's like instant replay in a pro football game -- if there's a question, those officials stand right by the ball and make sure nothing else happens until they've got an answer from the last play. Anything that could have helped us would have had to be done before that next play."
Accepting the win, Colorado Coach Bill McCartney told USA Today, "is not unfair. They have a right to expect some demonstration of integrity but I'm satisfied I have done the right thing. I have a responsibility to protect Colorado's interests."
Tamburo confessed that if the situation were reversed, "I'd have to do a lot of soul-searching myself. I can understand where they're coming from. I would love them if they had done something, but, really, what would it mean?
"In our hearts and in our minds we know that we beat them and if you needed something to keep a young team motivated, this is it. It's motivated me and I'm 60 years old."
Kane said that 50 years ago, Cornell, which had just beaten Ohio State, wasn't interested in the game against Dartmouth. When the Big Red fell behind, rain and snow prevented the team from doing much of anything to come back.
After the mistake was discovered, Kane talked with Coach Carl Snavely ("He was the son of a Methodist minister, so he had some scruples," said Kane.) and the university president, then told the team of the decision at lunch.
"The guys were upset, saying that they thought they had scored on third down anyway and that when officials had made mistakes that went against them no one had changed them," Kane said. "Then the team captain got up and said it was a great team and he would hate it if what they had done was tainted by winning a game on an official's error -- that sort of turned things around.
"At the time, we thought it was a sacrificial, morally correct thing to do but I'll tell you, no victory in any sport here over 121 years ever got us the same kind of goodwill as that decision."