The best of college football on display on Broncos' blue turf
Posted: Monday November 1, 2004 12:06PM; Updated: Monday November 1, 2004 12:06PM
Bronco defenders (from left) Gabriel Franklin, Tim Volk and Chris Barrios kept Chad Owens and Hawaii under wraps Friday.
As Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang led his Warriors on a fourth-quarter drive last Friday night, the stands at Boise State University resounded with taunting cries of "Tim-my! Tim-my!" While it's nothing new to see a home crowd heckle a visiting quarterback, it is unusual to hear such a din when the host school is leading 69-3.
Everything that makes college football passionate, eccentric, exuberant, non-formulaic -- in short, everything that makes the sport so much more fun than the NFL -- was on display last Friday night in Boise. Start with the fact that a marquee, meaningful game could be taking place in Boise, Idaho, where the home team plays on a blue carpet. But here's what the contest offered:
1. The Division I-A school, Boise State, with the nation's longest win streak (18 games).
2. An opponent whose quarterback, Chang, needed just 241 passing yards (he averages 320 per game this season) to become the NCAA's all-time passing leader. Because Chang would be throwing rainbow spirals against the nation's 103rd-ranked pass defense, you assumed he'd get the record.
But then the only thing predictable about college football is that it is not. Just ask the University of Miami.
So it was that the Broncos held Chang to 227 yards, denying him the record. And they limited an offense that had been averaging nearly 36 points per game to a field goal.
But that isn't what made for such a spectacular scene. See, at Boise State the scoreboard keeps the running totals of each team's passing and rushing yards during the contest. So, with each completion Chang tossed, the fans were kept aware of how close he was to breaking the record without the public address announcer having to call attention to this subplot.
"I was doing it [watching the scoreboard], personally," said Bronco senior safety Gabe Franklin, who, like most of his fellow first-teamers, already had been taken out of the game when Chang started racking up serious yardage in the fourth quarter. "Every down, I was watching. I was like, oh man, he's catching up."
But, on fourth-and-1 from the Boise State 11 with 5:55 remaining, Chang, 14 yards shy of the record, threw an incomplete pass. So he'll have to wait another week to break Ty Detmer's record.
But, true to the form of the sport, Chang broke one record that nobody expected. The senior from Honolulu, who had tossed three picks in his first six games this autumn, threw four interceptions against Boise State. And that gave him 74 for his career, eclipsing the dubious record of 73 career interceptions set by Purdue's Mark Hermann in the 1970's. Meanwhile, Boise State was accruing believe-it-or-not moments on their bluescreen of a field Friday night. For instance:
1. The Broncos scored eight touchdowns, but not one of them through the air.
2. The Broncos scored 38 points in the third quarter.
3. Sophomore quarterback Jared Zabransky was flushed out of the pocket on one pass play and wound up "scrambling" 85 yards for the longest rushing TD in school history.
4. During a seven-minute span in the second half, the Broncos ran just three offensive plays, yet in that period scored four touchdowns (the fourth off an interception returned for a TD).
"I always tell my players, 'I want you to be abnormal,'" Boise State head coach Dan Hawkins told me after the game.
That kind of attitude is suited perfectly to his isolated yet extremely liveable state capitol. Consider that Idaho's governor, Dirk Kempthorne, was celebrating his 53rd birthday at the game. Bronco Stadium doesn't really have a "luxury box" of which to speak, so Kempthorne, his wife and daughter, and Boise State's athletic director, Gene Bleymaier (the man who conjured the blue turf concept 18 years ago), sat in a tiny room adjacent to the press area. At halftime, everyone sang Happy Birthday to Kempthorne, who then handed out cake.
Kempthorne, by the way, is refreshingly abnormal. He travels to many of his in-state destinations alone on his Harley Davidson. "My wife doesn't mind," he said. "She rides, too."
At the eye of this storm of abnormality is Hawkins, 43. In four years in Boise his record is 41-6. The Broncos have won 32 of their past 33 games and have led the nation in scoring the past two seasons. They are leading again this season.
Hawkins is both refreshingly candid and as down-to-earth as the tubers for which his state was heretofore best-known (that is, until the blue field and the victory streak began garnering so much attention). Late on Friday night, after the win, he was sitting in his office discussing his unorthodox methods of teaching.
"I don't put limiting thoughts on anybody," Hawkins said. "Why does a game have to be close?"
There are no stars on the Broncos. Nine different players ran the ball on Friday night. On a typical offensive play three to four players rotate into the game.
"We run up to forty personnel sets per game," Hawkins said. "My feeling is that we've got to find a way to get a guy into the game and let him do what he's best at."
"What I want to know is," he continued, "If you're the starting tailback, and you only get three carries one week, are you gonna be on my couch wondering why you're not playing more? Because that's not who we are."
Hawkins revels in being creative. On Boise State's first series, he unveiled a "Houdini play" in which Zabransky took the snap, then crouched down behind the line of scrimmage and yelled, "FUMBLE!" As the Warriors defense converged on the scrimmage line scrum, Zabransky stepped back and lofted a pass downfield to Sherm Blaser, who was 15 yards beyond the nearest defender. Alas, the pass sailed long. However, the Broncos also attempted an onside kick (successful), a fake field goal (negated by a penalty) and a camera-juking bootleg (touchdown), all in the first half.
"Hey, if it's only about winning, count me out," Hawkins said. "It's about the approach you take, not just in football but in life. You should be willing to take risks, to believe in yourself."
Hawkins is that rare coach who sets high goals -- on his desk he has taped a list of the program's goals this season -- the top two being go undefeated and lead the nation in scoring -- and achieves them. A year or two ago his father was standing on the field with him before a game, absorbing the heady atmosphere in which his son had enveloped himself.
"Did you ever imagine," asked the elder Hawkins, "that you'd be here?" "Dad," the coach replied, "I've always imagined it."
ALCS, final words
I'm just sitting here wondering how long it will be until I see a New Yorker wearing a T-shirt that reads, "I BEANED PEDRO." And where can I purchase one?
Here's my scenario for next season: Long-suffering fans of the Chicago White Sox, who haven't won a World Series since 1917 and yet don't whine about it constantly, will at last reverse the curse of the Black Sox. Here's how it will go down:
During the winter meeting the ChiSox will acquire Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson, who will lead them to the AL Central pennant. During the postseason Johnson will be plagued by painful boils on his feet and ankles, but will bravely soldier on. In Game 7 of the ALCS Johnson will pitch a masterpiece while the pus from his boils oozes out onto his black stirrups. "Rodney Johnson's stirrups are turning white!" Fox's Tim McCarver will proclaim. "In essence, Johnson is symbolically purifying the black mark that has haunted this ball club for decades."
The customer is always right
So I'm reading Shadow Divers by Mark Kurson, which is sort of the Into Thin Air of wreck diving. It's a fantastic book, but there's one short passage near the end that, while somewhat tragic, makes me laugh every time I recall it.
The captain of the charter diving boat, Bill Nagle, descends further and further into the throes of alcoholism (see, I told you it wasn't funny). As the alcohol begins to undermine his good sense, he becomes increasingly hostile with customers. At last Nagle is severely dissipated, which leads to this passage:
Nagle's business had begun to fail. When prospective customers inquired about charters, Nagle would say, "Oh, that's a nice request, but how about this: (Bleep) you! I don't care about you or your sunny smiles or your bulls--- artificial-reef wrecks! I never cared anything about you! Don't you get it? I'm gonna die!"
Maybe what I find funny is the utter candor of this small business owner. If you've ever run one, haven't you had the urge to say some variation of this (perhaps minus the 'I'm gonna die!') to a customer? All I know is that I'd patronize any businessman who talked this way to me. Not because I'm a masochist, but because I'd appreciate the honesty.