Carlson: Meet the Norman retiree as excited as Alabama, Ohio State about making CFP title game
David Gore couldn’t say yes fast enough when he was asked to be the clock operator for last month's Big 12 Championship Game.
But when he was asked to do the same at the national championship game, he couldn’t speak.
“It may have taken me 10 seconds to say anything,” he remembered with a chuckle.
His stunned silence ultimately gave way to agreement — of course he would work the biggest game of the season — and Monday night, the longtime Norman resident got to live a dream. He was part of the officiating crew for college football’s national championship.
“Whether you’re an official, whether you’re a clock operator, whether you’re replay, you want that opportunity,” he said. “It was exciting.”
Gore reminds us, it’s not just the young men in the helmets and shoulder pads who have a goal of making it to the Big Bowl.
Gore, a native of the far southwest Oklahoma town of Tipton, spent most of his adult life working in Norman Public Schools. He started as a math teacher in the district, then became an administrator. He was the district’s athletic director for almost a decade.
But all along the way, he always made time for officiating.
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He was a referee for football and an umpire for baseball, and with his calm demeanor, kind spirit and quick wit, he was a standout. He worked high school games in Oklahoma for more than three decades and called small-college football as well as major-college basketball and baseball.
When Gore began scaling back his on-field officiating, he started filling in when needed in the timer’s booth at OU football games. He’d been running the clock at OU men’s basketball games for several years, and with his refereeing experience, moving to football was seamless.
Then in 2008 when the Big 12 decided to start assigning clock operators to regular-season conference games, Gore applied to be part of the pool. He was accepted, and since then, he’s worked Big 12 games nearly every weekend of the season.
“Because I’m fully retired … I just thoroughly enjoy doing this,” said Gore, who left full-time work at Norman Public Schools in 2007. “As long as they’ll have me, I’ll continue to do it.”
Even though Gore has worked more than a hundred Big 12 games over the past decade or so, he hadn’t been assigned the conference title game.
That changed this past season.
“I was very pleased just to get to work the Big 12,” he said.
Gore was still riding the high from that game when the Big 12 called two days later with the assignment for the national championship game.
After the College Football Playoff selection committee picks the top four teams, it determines which conferences will supply the officiating crews for the semifinals and the final. The playoff doesn’t want any conflicts of interest, so it selects conferences without teams in the games. This year, without a league team in the playoff, the Big 12 was asked to provide the on-field and in-booth officials for both the Sugar Bowl, the semifinal between Alabama and Notre Dame, and the national championship.
The day after the playoff selections were announced, Gore got the call that he had been assigned to the national championship.
He and wife, Denise, flew from Oklahoma City to Miami on Saturday. Gore had several meetings and responsibilities over the weekend, but because of pandemic precautions, many events surrounding the Big Bowl were canceled. A huge gala normally held on Saturday night, for example, was a no-go.
The game itself didn’t turn out all that great either, as Alabama rolled Ohio State.
But Gore didn’t let any of that sully his experience.
“What is a lot of fun at a game like this is, you look at the booth next to you and you see Kirk Herbsteit or you see Sean McDonough,” Gore said of the ABC and ESPN analysts. “All these different personalities, and they’re just regular folks doing their job just like we’re regular folks doing our job.”
Gore admits he always soaks in the atmosphere before a big game, but once the whistle blows and the clock starts, it becomes like any other game. He has a job to do, and he focuses on the details of the work, not the magnitude of the moment.
“My job (Monday) night was no different than nine or 10 other times, other weeks this year,” he said. “Once the game gets started, you’re just back into your routine.”
David Gore would love to work another national championship game some day. Maybe one where COVID isn’t an issue. Perhaps with all the pomp and circumstance and as many fans as can pack the stadium.
Still, if Monday was his one and only, he has no complaints.
“We had a great, great time,” he said. “It just worked out beautifully.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.