- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
If THE QUESTION IS, DO I PREFER COLLEGE OR PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL, THE ANSWER is: Yes. To me it's one of those arguments that pose a false choice, like wondering whether you prefer pizza or burgers. Can't I just have one on one day and the other on the next? ¶ But just because I like both doesn't mean that each doesn't have its own distinctive flavor. And what's unique about college football goes beyond the day of the week it's played, or that its athletes have majors, or that computers and polls (for now) determine who will compete for the national championship. ¶ Much of what makes college football such a singular animal is the nature of the characters that have been part of it. Coaches like Joe Paterno, who has been at Penn State for longer than the NFL has been holding Super Bowls; or players like Bo Jackson, who during his days at Auburn was basically Paul Bunyan with a pigskin tucked under his arm. Pioneers like Walter Camp and Pop Warner, who took a vague notion of an athletic competition and molded it into a national pastime; and bigger-than-life personalities like Joe Namath and Jake Plummer, who lifted entire states with their skill and bravado. You'll read about these storied figures, and many others, throughout this special issue devoted to college football's originals.
THE SPIRIT OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL can also be embodied in a team or a game or even the fleeting moments of one play. It is what makes the state of Ohio into Buckeyes Country every fall and what consumes Alabama in the week before 'Bama and Auburn collide in the Iron Bowl. It is the never-ending national obsession with Who's No. 1? After all, what other sport has a Game of the Century once a season—at least? It is why, in more than a few states, the governor makes less than the football coach, and there is very little complaint.
Although colleges have been playing football for 141 years, new originals—characters and moments—are minted every season. Think back to that Texas-Texas Tech game from two seasons ago—the one in which Dallas native Michael Crabtree made that last-minute 28-yard catch just inches from the sideline and strutted into the end zone as the Red Raiders knocked off the top-ranked Longhorns. That moment was a college football original. Oh, you'll see last-second catches elsewhere, other game-clinching heroics. But rarely will you see a regular-season play set off the kind of frenzy that Crabtree's catch did in Lubbock. Crabtree takes in the pass from Graham Harrell, and all of a sudden West Texas finds out it's hosting Lollapalooza—right now. People are going crazy not just because the Red Raiders won, but also because the fans get to feel like, for a moment at least, they are the kings of the mountain in the football-crazy state. After a Dallas Cowboys-Houston Texans regular-season game, that's just not happening.
And even though Tech gets rolled two weeks later by Oklahoma, losing 65-21, and finishes the season with a loss to Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl, the excitement of Crabtree's play still resonates. That's a testament to college football. To make a catch that memorable in the pros, it needs to have everything riding on it. Just ask David Tyree.
Another game that stands out for me: Appalachian State's season-opening win over Michigan in 2007. Only in college sports can you have an upset of that scale. After all, Division I-AA's Appalachian State is a school that many fans had little or no idea even existed. (And even after that win, anyone who can name the school's mascot off the top of his head—it's the Mountaineers—is invited to be my Trivial Pursuit partner.) I may be making a broad statement here, but your average NFL fan has at least heard of the teams in the league. If the Browns knock off the Colts, you don't hear anyone saying, "I didn't even know that was a team. Cleveland—what state is that in?"
IF I HAD TO PICK ONE GAME THAT EMBODIED THE originals spirit in college football, it would have to be Boise State versus Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. I have never seen anything like it. If this game were in a movie, it would have won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. That is, unless people found it too far-fetched to believe.
Let's briefly set the stage and remember how little most prognosticators thought of Boise State going in. This was at a time, just a few years ago, when schools from non-BCS conferences had yet to scratch out even the bit of credibility they are afforded today. Utah had won the Fiesta Bowl two years before, but still—this was Boise State. The Broncos had gone undefeated, and Oklahoma had two losses, but everyone believed the Sooners and Adrian Peterson would send the Broncos home to cry into their blue turf.
And then they played the game.
As you may recall, Boise State scored early and led by 18 points midway through the third quarter. Around the nation you could visualize people tuning in, wondering, Are they really going to do this?
Then for a while it seemed that the answer to that question was of course not. Peterson scored for Oklahoma, beginning a run of 25 straight points that put the Sooners up by a touchdown with 1:02 remaining. It had taken awhile, but the game had eventually conformed to expectations.