A Great one in Glendale

It’s nearly 1 a.m. on January 2, 2007. I’m exhausted. I have a dentist appointment in eleven hours. I don’t care. I can’t sleep until I tell the tale of the greatest football game I’ve ever seen.

I’m not sure why the networks think that big-time sporting events need to start after 8 p.m. Most of the fans are on the East Coast, but they get screwed if they want to watch the game and be functional adults the following day. That’s a rant for another time.

The Boise State Broncos finished 12-0 and earned the right to play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. It’s sort of like the Fiesta Bowl Junior since the national title game is a week from tonight. Oklahoma overcame early defeats and the loss of everyone’s number one dynasty rookie pick for 2007, Adrian Peterson, to win the Big 12. The Big 12 was probably the worst major conference in football, but no matter.

What might have been as amazing as the game was the announcing crew’s dogged insistence in using the David versus Goliath metaphor approximately a hundred times. I kid not. Initially I think that Boise State was more fired up for this game. Oklahoma punted and two first downs later Jared Zabransky hit a wide open receiver for a 7-0 lead. Oklahoma’s QB fumbled and two plays later it was 14-0. The upstarts were looking good. Oklahoma responded with a nice drive to cut the lead in half. The early lead fired up the Oklahoma D, which played tough the rest of the game. Boise State got the ball back late in the half and one missed tackle let a BSU receiver get into the end zone for the 21-10 halftime score.

The Oklahoma QB, Paul Thompson, personally tried to keep Boise State in the game. He turned the ball over four times, including a pick six that made the score 28-10. After that play, the OU defense said no mas. Even though they had a distinct size advantage, the Sooners couldn’t get their run game going. Peterson obviously wasn’t 100% as he shared carries.

A play late in the third quarter proved that momentum is huge in college football. After the pick six, Oklahoma got a couple of first downs and had to punt. A more nervous coach would have gone for it. The ball landed at the ten yard line and bounced into the back of the leg of a BSU blocker. Oklahoma recovered and Peterson dashed into the end zone to cut the lead to 28-17. BSU couldn’t do anything and OU kicked a field goal to make it 28-20.

At this point it was a matter of BSU running out the clock. Their undersized running back, Ian Johnson, who led the country in rushing TDs made a few first downs and they were in field goal range with less than ten minutes left. As Johnson pushed for an extra yard an OU defender violently ripped the ball out. It was a fantastic play. OU couldn’t do anything but BSU got the ball back and couldn’t get the clinching first down. OU got the ball back and Thompson put on a perfect two-minute drill. I actually thought that he ran it too well. Oklahoma got the ball down to the BSU 20 with two minutes left, so they could easily have mixed in some runs. They scored on a pass that was tipped by a defender. It was 28-26.

Even a simple two-point play went to crazy dramatics. Thompson overthrew a fade, but the BSU defender held. Half the distance. On the second opportunity a TE slid out in motion and caught a nice fade pass. Good play, but two guys were in motion at once, so the ball went back to the seven. It was time for the third two-point play. I had never seen this before. Thompson looked for the fade, which wasn’t there. He sat in the pocket and found a guy open in the middle of four defenders for the tie. We were looking at OT, although BSU had two timeouts left.

On the first play from scrimmage, Zabransky pulled a Neil O’Donnell. His receiver went deep and he threw the short out route right to an OU defender. Pick six. There were about 55 seconds left and Oklahoma had just scored 25 points in a row to pull off an incredible victory. BSU would have to accept a very tough defeat in their biggest game in history. Their QB was a senior, which made it even worse.

BSU wasn’t quite dead yet. Zabransky completed a long pass to his tight end at the OU 43 with about 38 seconds left. He took a sack on the next play and took the team’s second timeout. The next pass was on the money at the first-down stripe but the receiver dropped it. It was fourth and 18.

This is the moment when every sports fan prays for the miracle finish. On Sunday I rode my parents’ stationary bicycle and watched a replay of the Titans/Bills Wild Card game that featured the most miraculous finish that I had seen. That enabled me to go for 45 minutes and work off maybe three of the 72 cookies I consumed this weekend.

Note that BSU didn’t call a timeout before the following play. What happened was nuts. Zabransky hit a wide receiver for about ten yards. I saw the superfluous red line that indicated ten yards from the first down. This play looked like a stinker. The receiver took two steps to his right and pitched it to another receiver heading the opposite direction. The OU defenders were caught flat-footed. The guy ran into the end zone with seven seconds left. It was stupid.

After the Titans blew their playoff chance yesterday, my mother was nice enough to show me highlights from the team’s incredible six-game winning streak. Vince Young made at least half a dozen crazy plays in that time period. This play beat all of them.

The game was going to overtime. Oklahoma got the ball on the first play. Adrian Peterson took the first handoff straight to the end zone. It looked like the perfect send-off to a truncated college career. BSU didn’t have another miracle in them, did they?

The playbook stayed open in the next possession. Zabransky handed the ball off to a RB, not Johnson, who looked like he was going to throw it back to Zabransky, but instead he took off for one yard. The next play was a tight end screen that was set up well but OU’s speed cut it to a two-yard pickup. On third down the tight end caught another pass to the 13 for a first down. BSU needed a first down and got it.

Johnson took a handoff on second down and got nine yards. Watching lots of NFL let me gain appreciation for the little things, like a player’s ability to control his body. Johnson actually stayed off the ground as the defender rolled him over, gaining an extra yard. On third and one, a foot actually, Johnson got stuffed a yard behind the line of scrimmage. He actually fumbled, but replays showed that his knee was down. I think that his knee didn’t touch the ground but the replay was too close to call.

Let me mention that BSU would sometimes shift twice before running a play. I guess that kept the OU defense on its toes. On fourth down it was time for gutsy call that I would never try in a flag football game number two. With the season on the line, Zabransky shifted to the left and the ball was snapped directly to the guy who took the ball on the first OT play. It looked like an obvious run, and the D had it sniffed out. Instead the guy threw, and it floated perfectly to a well-covered tight end for the score. My jaw hit the floor. I want a coach like this in the NFL. If Jeff Fisher were granted a in-game mulligan he wouldn’t make this call.

The score was now 42-41. The announcers finally got something right when they said that BSU would go for two. OU called a timeout like during a last-second in-bounds play in basketball. BSU lined up with three receivers to the right. Zabransky took the snap, faked a throw to the right, and handed the ball off to Johnson who ran into the end zone for the win. He flipped the ball into the crowd a la Vince Young. On the replay it showed that Zabransky faked the throw with his right hand while holding the ball behind his back in his left. It was the old Statue of Liberty play, which I had heard about but never seen. I guess the Fumblerooskie would have appeared had the game continued.

Boise State won, and OU lost their third straight BCS contest. The gal on the field asked Zabransky if BSU deserved a shot at Ohio State, which was the softball question of all time but nicely set up nevertheless. Zabransky agreed. When you pull off the Neil O’Donnell throw and the best clutch fake ever, you deserve to feel big. Who knows, he’s a fast white QB with iffy arm strength, so maybe he’ll become this year’s Matt Jones.

It’s 1:30 in the morning, and if I weren’t in Chattanooga due to my wife’s malfunctioning car, I probably wouldn’t have stayed up for the finish. I’m glad that I did, and was smart enough to record the proceedings. Or dumb enough.

If the NFL playoffs can give me one game that’s a tenth as exhilarating, the next month will be fun. I’d like to see one game like Indy/Pittsburgh, but that’s asking a lot.

Oh yeah, is there any job as unfulfilling as being the Goodyear Blimp pilot assigned to a game in a domed stadium? Geez.

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