Late on the afternoon of Oct. 8, 1966, the Florida State University football team was trailing its archrival, the University of Florida, 19 to 22. With 26 seconds remaining, FSU quarterback Gary Pajcic threw a 45-yard pass to the visitors’ end zone. Lane Fenner, a wide receiver fresh off the bench, had outraced two Florida defenders and the nearest official. Newspaper photographs clearly showed Fenner scoring the game-winning touchdown, clutching the ball with one knee on the turf a yard inside the chalk line before rolling out of bounds.
Trouble was, that’s not how field judge Doug Mosley saw it. He ruled the pass incomplete as Fenner and FSU people on the sidelines howled in protest. There was no instant replay then. Florida went home with the victory. An hour later, the photographs came out.
“I’m going to tell my boys they won the game,” said the FSU coach, Bill Peterson.
But, of course, they hadn’t. Mosley’s blown call was the reality. There was nothing for the team could do about it but determine to win the next Florida game, which they did by a score of 21-16—their first victory at Gainesville.
People still talk about “the catch.” The photo is in the state archives.
This is the second time that example has come to mind in a context far more significant than sports.
The first was 16 years ago, when Al Gore lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush despite winning the popular vote.
I telephoned Pajcic, a prominent lawyer and philanthropist at Jacksonville (he died in 2006), to ask how one copes with losing what you know you won.
You just go on, he said, and try to make the best of it.
That’s for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to do following her futile popular vote victory, by a margin five times larger than Gore’s, undone by the same gross anachronism.
There’s a replay of sorts, but don’t expect it to change the reality. The recounts sought in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would have to uncover massive fraud, for which there are only conspiracy theories rather than evidence.
The irony is that the Electoral College was premised on the notion of wiser people acting as surrogates for the voters, exercising their own best judgment. Enough electors presumably could do that now in states where the laws don’t bind them. But not enough will.
However, Clinton’s two-million vote margin is at least a moral victory that deprives Donald Trump of any claim to a mandate. It should oblige him to try to keep his postelection words about uniting the nation, though most of his appointments so far put that in the same category as the promises he is shedding even faster than the ones he makes to his wives.
His attorney general, who will be responsible for enforcing the civil rights laws, has spent his life opposing them.
His education secretary has spent her life trying to destroy the public schools. His senior adviser was the leading propagandist for the white supremacists and other punks now known, lamely, as the “alt right.” Trump would have everyone believe that Stephen Bannon doesn’t stand for what he was promoting. Trump can easily think that about Bannon because Trump does not seem to believe what he says himself.
It’s astonishing for him to be entertaining even the thought of the jaded Rudy Giuliani as a rival to Mitt Romney for secretary of state.
The Democrats in the Senate have a duty to resist nominees who are hostile to public education, the environment and civil rights. They have more than enough votes to filibuster and to attract that handful of Republicans who refused on principle to slink aboard Trump’s bandwagon.
They also have a duty to pursue the most ominous aspect of the election, which isn’t that Trump won but that he did it with the significant help of a hostile, dangerous foreign power.
If a Democrat were in that position, the Republican House would already be unlimbering the tumbrels of impeachment.
The Democrats need to keep after the Republicans until public opinion forces them establish a commission of inquiry into what Russia actually did to corrupt our election and what might be done about it.
It’s their duty also to keep the heat on Trump’s enormous and abundant conflicts of interest.
And, most of all, to fight like hell when Paul Ryan sets out to destroy Medicare by converting it into a voucher program. One of Trump’s promises was to protect Medicare. He should be held to that one, if nothing else.
The Congress is an imperfect representative of the people. Gerrymandering distorts the House. That every state has two senators gives inordinate power to those states that are thinly populated.
The presidency is the only true voice of the people. They gave Trump’s opponent some 2 million more votes than he got. For him to continue to act as if that doesn’t matter would set him up for a resounding defeat four years hence. Even the Electoral College more often calls it right, and the losing team often comes back.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.