' ' Cinema Romantico: My Favorite College Football Games: Game 8

Saturday, October 19, 2019

My Favorite College Football Games: Game 8

November 3, 1990: Georgia Tech - 41 Virginia - 38

For all its accompanying hype, the Super Bowl is merely the last game of a season, a logical end point, which is why an NFL champion is official, like getting a vendor contract notarized. Bo-ring. In college football, on the other hand, playoff-less for 145 of its 150 years, national champions were colloquially, wonderfully referred to as mythical, like the culmination to an adventure book. Occasionally, if the stars aligned, a New Year’s Day bowl game doubled as a kind of Super Bowl, like the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, but those instances were rare and still created less by a linear process than bowl game official skullduggery. No, the most famous college football games have taken place during the regular season, which is why no other sport’s regular season can compare, and those games have come replete with their own overblown moniker – The Game of the Century. There have been fourteen Games of the Century, which is not to suggest that each one was a Game of the Century because every Game of the Century was the Game of the Century, see, part of a whole but simultaneously singular. And though all these Games of the Century have featured #1 vs #2, not all #1 vs #2 showdowns have been Games of the Century, a kind of dream logic that only exists in this mad, glorious sport, where a rare confluence of events – polls and P.T. Barnum-esque press proclamations – will such contests into being. The playoff will kill them, of course, since it is designed to manufacture its own ersatz super bowl, conforming to supersized normalcy. Boo. Hiss. But don’t get me started.

Virginia and Georgia Tech’s showdown for the ACC title in 1990 was not an (un)official Game of the Century. The former Cavaliers were undefeated and ranked #1 but more a novelty than a blueblood, while the latter Yellow Jackets, destined to split the Mythical National Championship with Colorado, entered this game once-tied and ranked merely 16th. The setting, meanwhile, was not hallowed gridiron ground like South Bend, Indiana or Tuscaloosa, Alabama but modest Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, before it expanded, when one end zone was still open, autumn-colored trees swaying in the breeze. Of course, that’s what made it feel different, not inevitable but a joyous quirk in the college football order, emblemized in the contest itself, not a defensive struggle born of coaching conservatism a la the first Game of the Century, or the most recent one, but a frenetic, sloppy, magnificent shootout.

It began in the sunshine but ended in the fall twilight, sort of mirroring Virginia’s day, roaring out to a 28-14 halftime lead only to have Georgia Tech claw its way back, aided by two Cavalier turnovers, and then a final quarter seesaw that ended the only way a game like this can – on a last-second field goal. If the end was familiar, in its way, the game itself felt like something close to emotional pandeonium, desperate even, especially as the sky got darker and the conclusion drew nearer, where the notion of this being each team’s opportunity on the biggest stage imaginable didn’t fade into the background but rose to the top. You could sense it; you could see it. In re-watching the goal line stand, there comes a moment when the CBS camera is right in Virginia coach George Welsh’s face. “Can you move the camera, please?” he says, right to it, to us. He is oddly polite but completely on edge, befitting color commentator Tim Brant’s recurring observation that Welsh is someone who has never been in this position and might never be in this position again, which befit the entire game’s air. It still felt to me now as it felt to me then – like it was The Game of the Century.

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