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THE RUNNING BACK, THE CHEERLEADER and what came after the greatest college football game ever
JOE POSNANSKI
December 28, 2009
The magic carpet ride began for Boise State with the unbelievable finish to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but what became of the heroic prince and the beautiful princess who waltzed into a nation's embrace that night? How did their fairy tale turn out?
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December 28, 2009

The Running Back, The Cheerleader And What Came After The Greatest College Football Game Ever

The magic carpet ride began for Boise State with the unbelievable finish to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but what became of the heroic prince and the beautiful princess who waltzed into a nation's embrace that night? How did their fairy tale turn out?

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Happily ever after. Yes, that's where all fairy tales end, and what follows is most definitely a fairy tale. This is the one about the football star and the cheerleader. It has everything you could want from a fairy tale—magical kisses, a whiff of danger, a prince who almost died, a princess walking in the snow and, yes, true love. And, of course, there's a happily ever after. The only difference with this fairy tale is that the story does not end with happily ever after. It begins there. ¶ Well, you'll see.

Once upon a time, a football player knelt in front of a cheerleader, camera flashes illuminating his face and his Boise State jersey. The last crumbs of confetti twirled in the Arizona air. The hoarse cheers of an exhausted crowd and the final strains of the school fight song echoed in the night. It was all too much. Everyone in that stadium had just witnessed the greatest college football game ever played, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Boise State was winning, then Oklahoma was winning, then it seemed over, then it wasn't.... This was the sort of game that made people across America spontaneously burst into tears of joy.

The football player, Ian Johnson, scored the final points in that game. Down by one in overtime he scored a two-point conversion on a play from another century, a play known as the Statue of Liberty, or, as they simply called it in Boise: Statue Left. Quarterback Jared Zabransky took the snap, dropped back, turned to his right and faked a pass in that direction. Only then, he slipped the ball behind his back for Johnson to take it. Johnson ran left—Statue Left—and all was clear, the Oklahoma defenders were as befuddled as Captain Hook facing Peter Pan.

Johnson ran into the end zone, and Little Boise State had beaten Mighty Oklahoma, and it was the perfect ending to the perfect game. Strangers hugged. First dates kissed. Johnson threw the ball into the crowd hoping it might reach his father—but Ian was too pumped up and overthrew his family. Then he ran to the corner of the end zone, and he talked to the Fox announcer Chris Myers about his team's courage in playing to win rather than playing not to lose.

"And," Myers said as the interview ended, happy sarcasm in his voice, "I know you're going to propose to your girlfriend now. Congratulations."

And then with the television cameras on him, Ian Johnson took a knee in front of Chrissy Popadics, the captain of the cheerleading squad. "Hold on, wait a minute, Tommy, he's really going to do this," Myers said suddenly to his Fox partner Thom Brennaman—and to America.

"Will you marry me?" Ian Johnson said, though crowd noise drowned out his words on TV.

"Yes!" Chrissy yelled a couple of beats later, after Myers tapped her on the elbow with the microphone to snap her out of stunned silence. Ian beamed even as he tried to look—well, what's a fairy tale word?—gallant. He stayed on one knee for an instant longer before someone in the crowd slapped his shoulder pads and shouted, "Yeah! Yeah!" With that, the football hero arose, the cheerleader jumped into his arms, and they held the kiss long enough to seal the moment.

"All right, Tommy. She said yes!" Myers shouted. "Ian Johnson proposing to the head cheerleader at Boise State. Does it get any better than this in college football?"

It did get better. The next day Ian and Chrissy were whisked off to New York, where strangers waved at them in the street and the couple was driven around town in a limousine and toasted in Times Square before an appearance on Good Morning America. Six months later The Rock would hug Chrissy at the ESPYs. Chelsea soccer star Didier Drogba—"My hero!" Ian shouted—would hug Ian. All the while they received tear-stained letters from couples, old and young, who said that they believed in love again.

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