It never happened, according to Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry. It definitely happened, and cost his Midshipmen last season's game with the Falcons, said Navy coach George Chaump.
A year later, the debate is raging and serving as a rallying cry for the Mids, who have lost 11 consecutive games to the Falcons.
DeBerry, reluctant to revive the issue, said he recently reviewed tapes of last year's 18-16 victory in Colorado Springs, Colo., and was sure that the infamous fumble never occurred.
"I don't think there's any reason for controversy," he said. "The films show our guy [quarterback Jarvis Baker] was down before the ball sprung loose. It was the right call."
After saying he did not want to raise an old complaint, Chaump said at his weekly news conference: "It was a fumble beyond a shadow of a doubt. I felt real bad for the officials who missed it."
To refresh the memory, several members of an all-Big East officiating crew ruled Baker had lost the ball to Navy on the Mids' 21. But the head official overruled them, and two plays later, Chris McInnis kicked the winning 36-yard field goal with 54 seconds left.
To vindicate Navy's outrage, the Big East supervisor of officials admitted the error the next week, apologizing to Chaump and his players.
Chaump insisted he did not use the controversy as a motivational tool in practice this week. But the upperclassmen needed no reminder.
"Nothing has to be said about the importance of this game," said senior Navy tackle Max Lane. "Everyone is focused. We know their guy fumbled, and that's given us a need for revenge."
Revenge or not, the Mids (2-2) are in strong position to beat the struggling Falcons (1-4), caught in a major rebuilding year with only one holdover -- tackle Curtis Sutton -- from their defensive unit.
The instability on defense was underlined in the past three losses, to San Diego State, Brigham Young and Wyoming, in which the Falcons allowed 99 points.
On offense, an early-season rib injury to lightly played senior Scott Teigen left sophomore Demond Cash in charge of running the wishbone. The Ohio native has proved an elusive runner, averaging more than 111 yards rushing in his three starts, earning the colorful nickname, "Cash 'N Carry."
He has been hailed as the fastest Falcons field general since Dee Dowis was running wild in the late '80s. In his first start against San Diego State, Cash had runs of 35, 31, 22 and 18 yards, but the Aztecs prevailed, 38-31.
"Cash reminds me a lot of Dowis," said DeBerry. "Dowis didn't always score well in the pre-game tests, but when he got on the field on Saturday, he was something to see. Cash is the same way."
Navy believes it finally packs the offensive punch to match the Falcons. Behind junior Jim Kubiak's strong arm, the Mids have averaged 247 yards passing, but only 94.3 rushing.
"We've got to strike a better balance," said Chaump. "Against Tulane, Kubiak sometimes faced as many as six defensive backs. He did an excellent job completing as many as he did, but that was also why he had three interceptions.
"We've got to give the other team a reason to play the run. Early this season, we concentrated on getting Kubiak back in the groove after he missed last season. But now we have to work toward building a running game."