I am a rabid fan of compelling underdogs and as such have been a long time follower of the Boise State football team. It is, I believe, a marvel that a squad from Idaho that has none of the recruiting gravitas of the Auburns or Alabamas has been able to compete on a national stage. Boise coach, Chris Petersen, is my kind of gridiron professor. He is the picture of calm and a man who teaches sportsmanship. Early in the year, I watched him yank one of his stars for an entire game when the defensive player committed a nasty personal foul in the first quarter. But last night, the football fates put an end to the Boise's BCS dreams. And justified or not, it all seemed to fall on the back of one young man with the number 35 on his jersey.
A must win for the Broncos, the game against 19th ranked Nevada was tied with 10 seconds left. Nevada had all the momentum. Boise had the ball on their own forty something yard line. There was time for at most two plays. With amazing aplomb, qb Kellen Moore took the snap, dropped back, and in Doug Flutie Orange Bowl fashion, flung the pigskin 55 yards into the sure hands of Titus Young. Now, all the Boise kicker, Kyle Brotzman, had to do was make a chip shot of about 26 yards. The pale senior trotted out, swung his leg back and forth, and then booted the ball wide. Millions cheered and millions sighed. In one swing of his foot, the usually efficient senior seemed to boot away his team's bid for a Rose Bowl and a WAC Conference championship.
The game, which was exciting enough to cause cardiac problems went into overtime. Immediately, Boise drove down to around the eight-yard line. Out Brotzman trotted for the equivalent of an extrapoint and, once again, he missed a boot that most of his non-kicking teammates could have nailed.
I decided to watch the game from an elliptical machine in a twenty-four hour gym. Moving helps to keep me calm. By the final buzzer, it was about 1 AM CST and a good thing that no one else was in earshot of my invective, as the ball that would have brought Boise to the next level was launched into the Nevada night -- but not between the crossbars.
Being a fan is a human connection and I was deeply disappointed and came home in a dither. How could Brotzman make such blunders? How could he choke like that? As though I didn't know. In a game that I played in for Bowling Green State University, I went off-sides a mind-boggling threes times in a row against Western Michigan. People say it is the kind of thing that is hard to forget. Try again -- it is the kind of mistake that seems to get a life of its own -- that seems to remember you. Sometimes I would be sitting up late at night with a look in my eye and my wife would say -- Oh no, not ESPN replays again! Yep. I was pondering the Western Michigan game or maybe a pattern I should have run differently in a college contest played thirty years ago. There is a lot of energy around sporting events and it all makes for powerful and sometimes searingly painful memories.
I hope Brotzman is all right. He was not in Afghanistan yesterday but there is no denying that last night was traumatic for him. There has been a lot of chatter of late about head injuries in football. But there are some that come without any contact. While these high stakes are unavoidable and an essential part of the game, coaches and teachers have to be concerned for someone who lived Brotzman's nightmare. I trust that his coaches are checking in, and that his teammates are reassuring Brotzman that they dropped this game as a team by blowing their huge lead. And if I know Boise's character, that is just what Coach Petersen and his charges are doing.