Understand this: It is vital to keep all the issues surrounding the replay fiasco in Eugene, Ore., last weekend separate and in proper perspective.
To put it so simply that a rabid, death-threat-sending Oklahoma fanatic might even understand: It's a game.
Yes, it's a game worth millions of dollars, at least that many emotions and probably someone's job riding on the outcome, but still just a game. A good, credible game in which players and coaches make mistakes and, on balance, officials make a lot fewer mistakes. And a game in which a fairly reliable mechanism is in place to correct the officials' mistakes.
That mechanism needs to stay in place. Tweak it if it needs it or revamp the entire system, but don't go back in time and get rid of it. Replay was, and still is, the best thing to happen to football since the face mask, and the occasional entry of human error isn't a good enough reason to scrap it.
That goes for obvious, blatant, a-blind-man-with-his-shirt-pulled-over-h is-head-couldn't-miss-it examples of human error, when a call on the field demands review, gets reviewed, and still gets called wrong.
Like, oh, just to pull a random example out of thin air, the onside kick in the final minutes of Oklahoma's game at Oregon on Saturday.
Being angry is one thing. Everybody's entitled to that. However, death threats, hissy fits and the breaking of contracts out of spite tend to cross the line.
David Boren, the University of Oklahoma's president, has done everything to register his anger short of calling in the National Guard, which he might need to do anyway if his school's idiot fans keep threatening the life of the replay official. One demand: asking the Big 12 to record the game as if it never happened.
His coach, Bob Stoops, has heaped praise on his boss and his dyspeptic outbursts, and raised the idea of canceling a 2008 trip to Washington out of protest against the Pacific-10, as if the conference's apology, suspension of the game crew and offer to wash the Sooners players' drawers for a month haven't been enough.
It's mature leadership like this, the willingness to accept responsibility and to learn from life's adversities, that has made big-time college sports what it is today, and is continuing to turn out the well-prepared, levelheaded student-athletes with whom we're so familiar.
Actually that's unfair, because at least two former members of the teams in question are handling the incident far more sanely than their elders.
Granted, it may be a while before fellow Ravens wide receivers Mark Clayton, from Oklahoma, and Demetrius Williams, from Oregon, settle their friendly wager from the game (let's presume that no money was involved, in case commissioner Roger Goodell asks). But neither came close to the level of knuckleheadedness exhibited by Boren, the OU fans and, to a lesser extent, Stoops.
"First of all," Clayton said yesterday, "Let me say this: You have to play above the refs. You do. You can't let them decide it. They made the call, [the Sooners] still had a chance, and they didn't do it."
"When I saw the kick, I said, 'OK, [the Oregon player] touched it, that's it. We got it.' Then I saw they were reviewing it, and I said, 'OK, game over.' And then ... I thought, 'Wow, what game is that guy watching?' "
A few minutes later, Williams all but echoed everything Clayton said.
"Of course, they did get a bad call. Yes, the officiating wasn't good," he said. "But my defense is, you were up the whole game. Don't ever let the officials take over a game like that. ... We've had situations where we've lost the game on officials, where there were situations that affected the final score. You get mad, but you handle it."
Funny, you'd swear the men in authority in such situations would be the ones saying that. Obviously, at some point they got that point across to a couple of their players. The grown-ups apparently forgot about it this week.
Still, maybe the whole replay concept should be scrapped, if it's not going to correct mistakes, for one, and if it sparks such extreme, out-of-control reactions, for another. Right?
"There's nothing wrong with replay," Clayton said. "If it's a real close play, it can go one way or another, and you still can't figure it out [with replay], that's one thing. But when it's obvious, when there's indisputable evidence, as they say, that's definitely when replay is good."
"I'm for it," Williams said. "There are times when you have to say, 'That was a bad call,' and you have to fix it."
Every once in a while, the person watching the replay still doesn't fix it. If so, you handle it and move on. Handle it well enough, and you might end up in the NFL on an unbeaten team.
Don't handle it well, and you might end up president of the University of Oklahoma.
Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog