All we had to keep us going was the awareness that we were improving. Indeed, we began to think we resembled a real Division I-A team. But the '88 season ended for me when I dislocated my finger in October. In February I fell and ended up requiring knee surgery, which kept me out of spring practice. I sat on the sideline—and was impressed at the transformation of a band of dreamers into a tough-minded group of athletes shaped under the cajoling and back-patting of coach Gregg. By the end of spring practice, we were confident. Because we didn't have the personnel to outmuscle most teams, coach Gregg installed a run-and-shoot offense and a 3-4 defense. I hoped I would be able to pick up on the offense's more extemporaneous style when I got back into pads.
During practice this past August, I experienced some of the toughest days of my life, and not just because of the physical agony of the two-a-days. I had reinjured my knee in a summer automobile accident, and with every session it was becoming clearer to me that my knee was affecting my play. Finally, I admitted that I was doing neither the team nor myself any good. Giving up the dream of playing Division I-A football was hard, but when I told Coach Gregg, he put an arm over my shoulders and offered me a job as an undergraduate assistant. One of my responsibilities was to help put together the scouting reports on Rice, which has not had a winning season in 25 years. On Sept. 2, we were to meet the Owls in Ownby Stadium for our first intercollegiate game since 1986.
Few words were spoken at practice during the week preceding the game. We were nervous, and it seemed as if game day would never arrive. Then, almost too suddenly it seemed, the game was upon us.
If ever a team received a good omen, SMU did that night. Before a nearly sold-out crowd in the 23,733-seat stadium, we recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and, seven plays later, Matt Lomenick put us ahead 3-0 with a 23-yard field goal. For the rest of the half we performed the way everyone had predicted we would, and we went into the locker room trailing 28-3. We were far better in the second half, and no one on the team thought the 35-6 final score truly reflected how we had played.
We had an off-week, giving us 14 days to prepare for a home game against Connecticut, a Division 1-AA team. Everyone more or less acknowledged that if we were to win a game this season, this was the likely one, but at the half we were down 23-7. During intermission, Coach Gregg made some adjustments and gave a talk that convinced us that we could still pull out a victory.
With 7:23 remaining, Coach's speech seemed to be wishful thinking. We were behind 30-14, and many of the 20,548 spectators had already departed. The diehards who stayed saw one of the most emotional comebacks in Mustang history. It started with redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Romo completing a 43-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mitchell Glieber, a holdover from the 1986 squad. Another Romo completion, this one to running back Jason Wolf, was good for the two-point conversion, and the score was 30-22. After a field goal and a 51-yard drive we were on the Connecticut four-yard line with two seconds showing on the clock. The final play was a pass designed to go to Wolf in the flat, but the Connecticut linebackers had him covered. Romo started to scramble toward the goal line; then, cut off by two Huskies, he stopped. The stadium was hushed as Romo gently lobbed the ball into the hands of receiver Michael Bowen in the end zone—31-30.
Fans ran onto the field to celebrate a win that no one who was there will ever forget. For a few moments I forgot I wasn't playing anymore and ran out and jumped onto a pile of the happiest young men in the world. Coaches leaped and hugged one another. Even the officials got in on the act; seeing the futility of trying to clear the field for a point-after attempt, they let the celebration continue. In the locker room, Coach Gregg was close to tears when he said, "Men, I'm telling you this from the bottom of my heart. I have played in Super Bowls, I have coached in Super Bowls, but I have never felt the way I did when I saw that ball in the end zone."
I am equally sincere when I say that I am grateful to him for keeping me as part of the team. I hope other athletes will get as much out of their college football experience as I have out of mine.