If you're like me, you had absolutely no intention of watching the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night. You had already spent enough time watching football over the past few days and you were tired from a crazy New Year's Eve party that saw you passed out on the couch at your in-laws at 11:30 (not because of alcohol, but just because you were flat-out tired). And since the kids had just been put to bed and you were itching to dive into Season 2 of The Office on DVD, you figured you could skip this bowl game. The Fiesta Bowl would just have to go on without you.
But if you're really like me -- and this would be spooky -- your wife got hung up scouring eBay for paper tags and shiny metal boxes (for lemmings, perhaps?), so you had some time to kill. Thankfully, there was Boise State, Oklahoma, the two coolest plays in any football playbook, and the best college football game ever played. Well, at least since last year's Rose Bowl.
If you watched the first half, you probably weren't too impressed. And if you were watching on the east coast, you certainly turned it off in favor of a reasonable amount of sleep. Boise State led 21-10, and although that would make for an interesting Cinderella lead in Tuesday's papers, it probably didn't hold too many viewers. Midway through the third quarter the Broncos had pushed their lead to 28-10 after Marty Tadman returned an interception for a touchdown, breaking Sooner hearts and sending Boise into a tizzy. Somewhere in the bowels of the Idaho Statesman reporters were arguing over potential headlines: early exit polls showed "Atta Boise!" with a slim lead over "BCS: Broncos Crush Sooners!"
But as the gushing announcers kept reminding us, Sooners don't give up. They scored twice, a touchdown to get within shouting distance and a field goal to pull within eight, and things were interesting again.
Suddenly pushed, the Broncos became conservative in the closing minutes and left Oklahoma enough time to mount a game-tying drive. After Quentin Chaney managed to catch a deflected pass from Paul Thompson and the Sooners converted their third shot at the two-point conversion, the game was tied and overtime seemed a certainty.
Here's where a great game became unforgettable.
Boise State's first play following the Oklahoma touchdown produced another Sooner score. Bronco quarterback Jared Zabransky looked to his left and threw a pass that hung in the air long enough for Oklahoma's Marcus Walker to pull out his T-Mobile cell phone and ring all five of his Faves before snatching the ball out of the air and waltzing into the endzone. The Sooners were up 35-28, there was just over a minute to go, and the game was essentially over.
Except it wasn't.
Like every plucky little underdog should, the plucky little Broncos battled on, reaching midfield with eighteen seconds to play. The official scoring of the play that followed reads like this: JERARD RABB 35 YD PASS FROM JARED ZABRANSKY -- but that's not really what happened. On fourth and 18 Zabransky threw a strike to Drisan James at the thirty-five. James then calmly turned and flipped the ball to a streaking Rabb who scampered untouched into the end zone. The hook and fucking ladder. In a bit of foreshadowing, the cameras caught Boise coach Chris Peterson talking into his headset: "I think we'll just go for one." And now we really were going to overtime.
Oklahoma's offense took the field first in OT and scored in one play, almost as if they knew they were playing but a bit part in this drama. Adrian Peterson scored, then cleared the stage for the Broncos.
With the playbook already open to the last page, coach Peterson got even funkier when it mattered most. With his team on the five-yard line, he sent his quarterback in motion to the left so that running back Vinny Perretta could take the direct snap and loft a touchdown pass to Derek Schouman in the right-hand corner of the end zone. Sure, that was nice, but nothing like what was coming.
Eschewing the tie, Peterson decided to go for two. The Broncos lined up with three receivers out to the right. As Zabransky snapped the ball he turned deliberately in their direction and quickly brought his right arm up and appeared to fire a pass to the right -- while slipping the ball into his left hand and handing it to Ian Johnson who sprinted to the left and scored easily. The Statue of fucking Liberty, maybe the only play that could top the hook and fucking ladder.
If you're like me, you backed that play up at least a dozen times, watching it over and over until you believed that yes, it really had happened. These two teams really had scored twenty-two points in the final eighty-six seconds; a team from Boise really had beaten a team from Norman, Oklahoma; a non-BCS team really had gone undefeated, further diminishing the entire BCS system. It had all really happened.
And then there was Ian Johnson being interviewed in the corner of the end zone, answering questions about Ohio State and Cinderella and respect. And then, even as the idiotic Chris Meyers did his best to ruin the moment, Johnson was down on one knee and asking the head cheerleader to marry him. She's read the same fairy tales we all have, so of course she said yes.
And if you're like me, you backed that play up several times, too, even calling your wife to the couch to watch with you. And as the star running back held the cheerleader in his arms and tears ran down both their faces, you wondered if maybe you had been wrong. Maybe it wasn't possible.
Afterall, who would ever believe a story like this?