Monday, January 08, 2007

The Greatest?

The Greatest Game Ever?

It’s hard to really say that any game is the greatest ever – but it usually comes in a time when a team deemed unworthy does the unthinkable. The “Greatest Game Ever Played” in the NFL is when my Baltimore Colts, with ultimate legend Johnny Unitas, beat the New York Giants in 1958 (I was 7 months old) in one of the first televised NFL championships in overtime. The victory was sparked by less than traditional play calling by the great Johnny U – in a time when QB’s actually called their own games (coaches do it now). He called run when it should have been a pass. He called pass when it should have been a run. And that’s why he beat the Giants. It sparked the television revolution in NFL sports. The entire TV watching nation saw an incredible game and they got hooked.

Flash forward 48 years and you have a bowl game with WAC conference champion Boise State versus perennial dominant Division 1 team Oklahoma. Without getting in the the whole Bowl Championship Series BS ( BCS) this was the first time (well really second if you count Utah) but first time a “smaller school” could challenge a “top tier” football school in a really major bowl. This was a big deal this year for the “non-BCS schools” because they could qualify for the higher paying BCS bowls by finishing higher in the national rankings – and Boise State did. For most traditionalists it was an odd sight to see the Broncos versus the Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma was only favored by 7 – and not that really great this year – they lost their Heisman Trophy candidate running back to injury midseason and lost controversial game to Oregon who later got smoked in their bowl game. They weren’t juggernauts by any means – but they were bigger and faster and a big time program.

Boise State is probably known more for their blue astro turf field – a spectacular sight if you have ever seen it on TV. I have done bidness in Boise and have passed by this stadium many times on a fairly non-descript road that reminds me of the krappy infrastructure on Studemont in the Houston Heights – meaning it’s not the normal thoroughfare you would expect for a major football stadium. But it is there and it is known. I find Boise as a nice town that no one knows about. There’s a major infrastructure engineering company there so I might have to like it.

Regardless of the all of the pre-game analysis that spelled gloom and doom for Boise State, I thought they could take Oklahoma easy. And they broke out to a quick 14 point lead. By the start of the third quarter they intercepted a pass and had a commanding 18 point lead over the vaunted Okies. They were dominating the Sooners by playing straight up football.

After another great defensive stand late in the third quarter the heebie jeebies started creeping in. A long punt to Boise State bounced almost 10 yards backward and into a blocking lineman. Oklahoma recovered and got a cheap touchdown. While doubt started crowding in they were still up by 11.

Oklahoma got a field goal later – and after two fumbles by Boise State were charging down the field versus their prevent defense with three minutes left in the game. With a minute an half left they scored – via many questionable interference calls – OK got every break in the friggin’ book – and after three tries tied it up with a two-point conversion. The virtual bubble of blue and orange for Boise State in the stadium – which packed the place – was going numb.

That’s ok – a minute left. Boise State has a chance to get a field goal to win. Even thought they dominated the game and suffered unbelievable bad breaks and calls in the 4th quarter they could win the game or go into overtime.

First play – Boise QB Zambransky throws an interception that Okalahoma returns for a touchdown. In anybody’s book this game is OVER.

I am 48 years old and I have seen a lot of sports and a lot of football. NOBODY comes back with a minute left in the game, when you thought you had won it about a half hour ago easy - and then reclaims it. NOBODY.

I was feeling for the QB – fifth year senior – thinking how he was going to go through life throwing the worst pick in his life. Being the goat. The receiver went the other way – but still – it seemed like a little bit of gunslining – how could he be so careless? The air went out of the stadium – what was going to be a celebration of David versus Goliath was going to be an “I told you so”.

Then the most amazing thing in college football happened. And if you weren’t watching it live then you can’t understand how amazing it was. Replays do not do it justice. ESPN snippets are just eye candy. The tension on what was to happen was thick as your grandmother’s hair. You had to watch the whole game to understand how spectacular what Boise State did.

It was just unbelievable.

With a minute left, Zambranksy and the Broncos were unbowed. From their 25 they worked the ball to the 50. And for the first of THREE do or die plays – on fourth and 18 they ran a hook and ladder (or lateral) that just froze the OK defense and somehow tied the game as the receiver of the lateral just grazed the end zone pylon with 7 seconds left to tie the game. No one has really seen this happen in such execution since the memorable Miami – San Diego playoff game back in the 70’s.

4th and 18 – I mean they were done! But they had the play in their hip pocket and anybody who saw it knows they performed to the absolute perfection of execution. AMAZING.

It was friggin’ over and - now - it was overtime. Oklahoma would surely win this battle of trying to score from each other’s 25 yard-line in a war of attritions and tired Boise State players. OK scored easily on their first play from the 25 and it looked like it was over again.

Boise State was not as spectacular in their series but somehow worked it down to the 2 yard line and had a fourth down play to potentially tie the score. But on their setup their QB went out to the left flat and lined up as a receiver and the half back took the snap and ran right and lofted a pass to the tight end for the touchdown. Again – unbelievable execution.

And now – instead of just tying the game they took the gutsiest of positions and decided to go for two. A national TV viewing audience was stunned at this thought. In a world of NFL playing it safe blah blah blah – they were going to win or lose it right now. Barry Alvarez, the former great Wisconsin coach who was serving as a broadcast commentator made one of the most astute observations I have ever heard a commentator make.

“The coach knows what play he wants. He has it all set up”

In fact that was unbelievably right – and why can’t John Madden say stuff like that? Boise coach Chris Peterson had a play in his pocket he couldn’t wait to strut out.

Oklahoma called time out. It didn’t matter. Boise was ready.

On the third do-or-die play within two minutes of game time, Bronco QB Zambransky had three receivers trot out to the right side, took the snap, looked like he threw their way and then handed off the ball – with his left hand (mind you) – to RB Ian Johnson who scampered to the left untouched – and the game was history.

No one in any football history has pulled off three finesse plays like this to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in which was a game they had already won hours ago. Anybody who was staying up late saw great college football history – and one of the great feel good wins of all time.

A great way to ring in the New Year.

I’m sorry but I have to say it. Unfucking believable.

1 comment:

wordgirl said...

We had the game on that night and it was spectacular. My middle sister and her family used to live in Boise and her youngest daughter was born there. We used to go for visits and all my sons learned to snow ski at Bogus Basin. It is a charming little university town.