- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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When California defensive lineman Aaron Tipoti theatrically flopped to the ground on Oct. 13, 2010, during a tight game against Oregon, suffering an injury that was notably similar to the heart attacks comedian Redd Foxx used to experience as Fred Sanford in the 1970s -- "This is the big one!" -- a new trope entered the college football lexicon on a national level: The Fake Injury.
Tipoti wasn't the first to woefully grab himself and shout "I'm coming, Elizabeth!" and topple over against the Ducks' up-tempo offense. Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict notoriously couldn't recall which leg he'd hurt against Oregon, so he tried limping on both.
And, of course, there was Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas, also in 2010. Thomas looked like he might require amputation in Autzen Stadium in 2010, yet a play later he theatrically sprinted onto the field, seeming to enjoy the boos that rained down upon him.
So, apologies to an outraged coach David Shaw, who ripped into Washington coach Steve Sarkisian on Tuesday for accusing Stanford of faking injuries during the Huskies' 31-28 defeat over the weekend, but the Cardinal do, in fact, have a history of faking injuries against up-tempo teams. Of course, Shaw was the offensive coordinator for the Cardinal in 2010. He worked for head coach Jim Harbaugh and had nothing to do with -- wink-wink -- defensive strategies.
Said Shaw, "We don’t fake injuries. We never have and we never will. I don’t condone it, we don’t teach it, I don’t allow it. And I don’t care what Steve Sarkisian thinks that he saw. We’ve never done it. We didn’t do it against Oregon. So why in the world would we do it against Washington?"
Replied Sarkisian an hour later on the Pac-12 conference call, "We saw what we saw. We'll leave it at that. I think two reasonable people can disagree on something and move forward, which is what we've done. We're getting ready to play the Ducks."
So we have a kerfuffle between Pac-12 coaches. A he-said, he-said emerging from a fantastically compelling game between highly ranked Pac-12 teams, one that essentially ended with a controversial reversal in the replay booth of a pass that would have converted a fourth-and-10 in Stanford territory.
No, Sarkisian and Shaw don't see eye to eye on that play either. Said Shaw, "Obviously the ball hit the ground. I don't even know why it's even a controversial call. The ball hit the ground." Countered Sarkisian, "I don’t think that was conclusive."
There is some genuine ill feeling here. When asked if they had chatted on the phone in an attempt to settle their differences on this, both Shaw and Sarkisian said, "No comment." While it's dangerous to read too much into a refusal to comment, there's a hint of "Yeah, we talked and it didn't go well," there.
While Shaw is unhappy with Sarkisian's accusation in general, it's clear he particularly didn't like Sarkisian naming Cardinal defensive line coach Randy Hart as "telling them to sit down," and then adding, "I guess that's how we play here at Stanford," in his postgame interview with Huskies flagship station KJR 950-AM.
That not only provoked Shaw to call Sarkisian "unprofessional," it also opened up Sarkisian for a valid tweak.
"The only defensive line coach that I know of that has ever instructed players to fake injuries works at Washington, not Stanford," Shaw said.
That, of course, would be Huskies assistant Tosh Lupoi, the man chiefly blamed for Tipoti's poor acting. Lupoi was suspended for a game after he admitted using fake injuries against the Ducks.
Shaw went on to point out that the two players accused of faking injuries, linebacker Shayne Skov and defensive end Ben Gardner, had legitimate injuries that required treatment after the game. Skov, in fact, had an MRI on his knee.
Skov and Gardner also took to Twitter after the game to assert they didn't fake an injury and that Hart never instructed any Cardinal to take a fall.
So what to make of all this?
As for the big picture, little can be done about teams faking injuries unless rules are changed, requiring injured players to sit out a specific number of plays. Officials cannot -- and should not -- be asked to figure out if an injury is real or not.
As for the Stanford-Washington game specifically, Shaw made an impassioned defense of his team, but there's still the simple fact both Skov and Gardner quickly returned to the game and seemed no worse for wear. At the very least, that allows room for some suspicion, particularly when your team lost a close game.
If there is a clear mistake here, it's Sarkisian specifically calling out Hart, who coached 21 seasons at Washington before being hired at Stanford. Sarkisian wouldn't clarify what he saw across the field -- or heard secondhand -- but it's reasonable to believe he or someone else might have misinterpreted a gesticulation. I've known Hart since 1999, and I know he's too smart and too experienced to do something so patently obvious that it might get picked up by another team or, even worse, on camera.
Sarkisian would have been better off, if he felt strongly enough to go public with his complaint, as he obviously did, making a general criticism -- perhaps a joke? -- out of his perception of fake injuries, and then formally bringing it up with the Pac-12 afterward. And then, in the offseason, agitating for a rule change.
As for a rule change, Sarkisian didn't seem eager to endorse that.
"For our guys, when our players go down it's a pretty extensive process to get evaluated by our doctors," he said. "That would be more of a medical expert question of how long it takes to examine somebody before they can be put back in the game."
The Stanford counter to that would be that Skov and Gardner were evaluated on the field. You know -- when play was being held up.
It's not difficult for a team to fake injuries and to retain plausible deniability. It's also difficult to not find Shaw's adamant response here compelling. Further, it's a bit surprising that it's Shaw and Sarkisian at loggerheads. They are both articulate, polished, outgoing guys. They seem like they could be college roommates.
But there is one takeaway that we can assert without ambiguity.
The Stanford-Washington game in Husky Stadium in 2014 should be great fun.