Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Amazing 2007 Fiesta Bowl

[Edited post: Phrasing and syntax.]

Local real-estate mogul Johnny the Lind came up with surprise Fiesta Bowl tickets at the eleventh hour. Little did either of us realize, even as late as the third quarter with Boise State holding an unexpected 28-10 lead over Oklahoma, that we were about to see the end of the best college football game ever. Yes, even better than the Cal-Stanford "The Band Is On The Field" miracle.

I wore my ASU colors and we sat among mostly Boise State faithful, punctuated in odd seats by a maroon-clad Sooner or two. As the second half dragged on, many of the Oklahoma fans gave up and began filing out. But then OU put together a quality drive, narrowed things to 28-17, and the game began to look like a contest.

OU torched their way down the field with under two minutes left to close to within 28-26, pending the two-point conversion. They miss it and that's game. Not once, not twice, not thrice, but FOUR times did the conversion play run, owing to penalties. At long last, they found their open man in the end zone, and Mr. Further Review in the media booth confirmed the play. This game, which had been a laugher one quarter earlier, was tied at 28.

The Broncos were not ones to go quietly into overtime, so they began to charge down the field with a minute on the clock. Unfortunately, an errant Bronco pass fell into the hands of an OU defender, who promptly returned it for a touchdown. The impossible was possible! OU led 35-28! The BSU crowd in our area was utterly deflated, defeat drawing down their blue-and-blaze-painted faces. The Sooners in the crowd began to grow so rowdy that the jumbotron played the public service announcement by Coach Stoops for them to celebrate responsibly and for God's sake don't rush the field, because we don't have enough cops to catch all of you.

But I implored the Mountain Westerners not to give up. I, who had boldly predicted right to their faces that OU would dismantle their weak-sauce WAC pretense of a team, had been won over to the Bronco Way after seeing how hard their boys played and how much they wanted it. I had entered the stadium as a disinterested third party; with ASU falling to Hawaii in a lesser bowl game, I had no dog in the day's hunt. But with less than a minute left in regulation, I stood up to be counted with Cinderella and her Dream. I cheered at top volume with the Outsiders, the Pariahs of the BCS, and they, too, began to believe.

The Broncos saw the clock ticking away, each play more critical than the last. All of a sudden, on a ridiculous hook-and-lateral play with seven seconds to go, Boise State tied the game with a touchdown! The stands burst forth in jubilation. It would be overtime after all. The game was, at that point, officially ridiculous.

Overtime was as strange as the game was incredible. OU scored a touchdown on one snap, striking the fear of God into the hearts of their adversaries with an Adrian Peterson romp that presages great things for that young man's NFL career. It took a fourth-down conversion and a direct halfback snap for Boise State to cling to the game, fingernails to cinder block, as the halfback threw complete for the touchdown to bring BSU to within one.

So, does BSU kick the point and go to overtime #2? If they do, they have to go first and they can't settle for a field goal. If they do, OU might well score again on one snap. After the game, the BSU coach said his guys were at the end of their ropes physically. BSU was perilously close to losing control of the outcome of the game by their own hands. Their coach made a brilliant call and their players believed in it. They were going for two. For the win. Or the loss. Boise State stood up to make their statement: Stop us now or that's it. And as we all know, the Football Gods reward courage and daring with good fortune.

The Statue-of-Liberty play which ensued was so absurd that I couldn't believe it was happening even as it was. As if in slow motion, I disbelieved that they had lined up heavy to the near hash, that the QB was slowrolling the ball on his leg, that he snuck it around the back to his halfback, that he perfectly mimed the forward pass to the right and the entire defense froze, and then that his halfback, Ian Johnson, ran untouched into the end zone. Amidst the insanity that erupted in the wake of his run and BSU's 43-42 victory, Mr. Johnson was emboldened enough to propose to the head cheerleader. As you might imagine, she succumbed to his manly countenance. I guess it beats kneeling with a ring at a chintzy restaurant.

So ended the best college football game there ever was. I can't wait to see the game that actually makes that last sentence obsolete!