f------ chips on your shoulder when you walk out there tonight," commanded
Jeff Choate, who coaches running backs and special teams.
doubted us," shouted Zabransky. "No one gives us any respect. We're
going to take it tonight!"
They did take it.
They took this game with chutzpah and execution--but only after Zabransky damn
near gave it away.
The Broncos seemed
destined to lose the Fiesta Bowl two ways: gradually, then suddenly. One play
after Oklahoma had tied the score at 28--all, Zabransky was picked off by
cornerback Marcus Walker, who returned the ball 33 yards for a touchdown. So
intent had Zabransky been on looking off safety Nic Harris--"he'd been
reading my eyes all night"--that he failed to notice that Walker had
stopped backpedaling, correctly guessing the quarterback's intentions. Walker's
pick-six gave his team its first lead of the game, while Boise fans experienced
flashbacks to Sept. 3, 2005.
That was the day
the Broncos, ranked 18th and in search of respect, ventured between the privet
hedges at Georgia's Sanford Stadium, where they were spanked for their
presumption. Zabransky was awful--he had six first-half turnovers in a 48--13
loss--and never fully regained his swagger the rest of the season. To get his
mojo back, this son of an Oregon potato farmer began seeing a sports
psychologist. He learned to meditate, to "clear away negative thoughts"
and "to stay in a positive mind frame."
That's hard to do
when you've seemingly just thrown away the biggest game of your career with one
bad decision. "He was pretty down," Tharp recalls of Zabransky,
"thinking about how he was going to feel, being responsible [for the loss
to the Sooners]. When he saw he still had some time, he kind of
time" amounted to 54 seconds--all that remained on the clock after Quinton
Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to the Boise State 22. Stepping up in the
pocket on first down, Z--as he is identified by the tattoo on his right
biceps--completed a 36-yard pass to tight end Derek Schouman, a senior from
Eagle, Idaho, who, like more than a few Broncos, was playing the best game of
Looping inside on
the next play, Oklahoma defensive end Larry Birdine hurdled Johnson's block,
sacking Zabransky for an eight-yard loss. Two incomplete passes left Boise
State in a fourth-and-18, 50 yards from the end zone. That's when Tharp began
juggling those imaginary balls. No one in the stands at University of Phoenix
Stadium knew it, but the Circus was in town.
confidence did the Broncos have in Circus? The question was posed last week to
seven players sitting around a table at Boise's Smoky Mountain Pizza and Pasta.
They responded with uproarious laughter.
honest," said reserve quarterback Bush Hamdan, "we run it once a week.
On Friday. During the walk-through. It's like a basketball team practicing a
half-court shot. It's a screw-around play."