' ' Cinema Romantico: Happy New Year (and then some)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year (and then some)

(Note: The following essay will be, again, strictly about college football, though not about my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers' painful loss in the Cotton Bowl thanks to coaching so inept it makes me want to put my head through a plate of glass. It will be about a true re-affirmation regarding the greatest sport in the world. It will be rife with over-the-top superlatives and unbridled enthusiasm. You've been warned.)

I'm forever grateful in a way the written word will never adequately describe to have been able to experience a true New Year's Day. In fact, I have experienced several of them. My first "New Year's Day" came all the way back in 1986 and they lasted all the way until January 1, 1995.

To clarify, New Year's Day once upon a time was they day when college football held its best bowl games and best bowl games only. The top teams played from sunup to sundown and the National Championship was decided by the stroke of midnight. Tragically, things have changed. The BCS, or Bowl Championship Series, appeared in 1995 and mucked up everything. This was an attempt to appease playoff proponents who are only interested in absolutely, positively deciding who is #1. (What's ironic is the BCS essentially was created due to the whining playoff proponents who are probably the most staunch enemies of the BCS. But that's a subject for another sermon.)

Thanks to the BCS two of the biggest bowl games, including the so-called national championship, are now played after New Year's Day. The title is no longer decided on the first day of the year. It is no longer necessary to stack one TV on top of another in order to maintain tabs on all the action.

To a young kid - well, a young college football fanatic - New Year's Day of what can only be described as yore was truly magical. Not simply because of the wall-to-wall games with the finest teams but because of the feelings the whole day conjured. It was the one day every year guaranteed that my parents would let me stay up way past my bedtime. Even in '86, when I was in 2nd grade, I vividly recall watching Oklahoma defeat Penn State for the national title hours after I normally would have been sound asleep. On the first day of 1991 I stayed up until near midnight in my 220 Third Street bedroom watching on a little black & white TV the amazingly dramatic Orange Bowl as Notre Dame's "Rocket" Ismail had seemingly dashed 91 yards in literally the last seconds to defeat Colorado and spoil their chance at the national title only to have it called back by a penalty.

That was part of the magic. You were watching something you genuinely loved and you were up later than you were supposed to be and so you felt like you were getting away with something and, quite frankly, it was just one of the best feelings in the whole wide world.

As much I've denied it (to myself and everyone else), the advent of the BCS seems to have taken away much of the magic. This is not to say there are not still good games on New Year's Day. The Rose Bowl back in 2005, for instance, was epic. But the stakes of the January 1 games are no longer as high. In the ridiculous fuss to stage college's version of the Super Bowl what has been lost is multiple games on that one beautiful day possessing championship implications. In 1994 we entered New Year's Day with four teams all having a legitimate shot at emerging as national champion. And so as the day progressed and we got deeper and deeper into the night, things became more and more dramatic. On more recent New Year's Days I've gone to bed early during the final game of the day and in some cases (gasp) I have even committed the unthinkable and not even watched it. This truly makes me sad.

But last night? Last night was different. Last night in stunning and unforseeable fashion the (Tostitos) Fiesta Bowl harkened back to the New Year's Days of my glorious youth. The cinderella, as they say, Boise State Broncos beat the Oklahoma Sooners, owner of 7 National Championships. But they didn't just beat them. Goodness, no. They beat them in the sort of game we college football devotees daydream about seeing without ever really believing that dream will come true. They beat them in the sort of game that is legendary a nanosecond after it ends. They beat them in a game that as you watch it you realize is about to become legendary and you just want stop time and bottle it up.

If you didn't see the frenetic finish (and considering it occurred close to midnight central standard time, you probably didn't) let me recap.

1.) Oklahoma converted a 2 point conversion....twice (the first time it was called back by a penalty) to tie the score 28-28 with a minute left.

2.) Oklahoma returns an interception for a touchdown to go up 35-28 mere seconds after having tied the game.

3.) Boise State scores a touchdown on a 4th down and 18 courtesy of an improbable "hook and lateral" play to tie the game and send it to overtime.

4.) Oklahoma's stud running back Adrian Peterson scores a touchdown on the very first play of overtime.

5.) Boise State pulls to within a point when they let their wide receiver (!!!!!) throw for a touchdown on 4th and 2. (I say again, their wide receiver! Who had not thrown a pass all year! The guts! Dear God, the guts!)

6.) Boise State goes for a two point conversion instead of kicking the extra point and converts it to win courtesy of a so-called "Statue of Liberty" play. (Allow me to explain that the Statue of Liberty play is a little ruse in which the quarterback makes like he is throwing the ball only to actually deposit the ball with his other hand into the hands of the running back, leaving the quarterback in a pose somewhat reminiscent of the green lady in New York Harbor. It's straight old school, man. It's like like seeing Halley's Comet. Stunningly beautiful but oh so rare.)

7.) Ian Johnson, the Boise State running back who scored on said Statue of Liberty play, then proposed to his girlfriend (a Boise State cheerleader) after the game on live TV. Yes, this really happened. As Dave said to me as it happened, "It's like a sports movie."

It was like a sports movie. It was UN-FRICKIN-BELIEVABLE. It was the closest equivalent I can recall to the titanic 1994 Orange Bowl in which quarterbacks Tommie Frazier and Charlie Ward - of Nebraska and Florida State, respectively - one-upped each other all night long with breathtaking plays until a finale that left me dazed, heartbroken, proud, awed, drenched with sweat and tears, and laying face-first on our basement floor as if I'd just run a marathon and a half in a combination of blizzard and hailstorm with a sprained ankle. In short - last night felt like a real New Year's Day, god-damn it.

Last night I got to feel like a kid. It felt like I was staying up past my bedtime on a school night. I rose from my chair when Boise State ran the Statue of Liberty much like I rose from my bed 16 years ago (God, has it been that long?) when "Rocket" Ismail dramatically raced those 91 yards even though it turned out to be all for naught. Last night the magic returned and reminded me - despite the tragedy that is the BCS and the needless playoff which will inevitably come - that New Year's Day is still special.

2 comments:

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Miss B said...

Nick, I don't usually care a whit about football, but I really enjoyed your passionate writing.