Monday, November 29, 2010

Bucking the Trend

At the end of the day, I just like watching them play football.  That is going to have to be enough. 

It needs to be, if I am going to continue to be a fan of the Boise State Broncos (and I am).  Well, if I want to enjoy being a fan, anyways.  It sucks, sure, that with two missed field goals, countless missed calls, and one missed opportunity, that everything changed for ‘Bronco Nation,’ but I’m afraid it did.
No superlative would be too superlativey in describing how hard Boise’s loss was to take on Friday night.  The entire state (myself included) is in a state of catatonic shock.  Stomach punch falls way short, in fact.  The feeling was more reminiscent of a punch that landed a few inches south of there.  

Just 8 hours earlier, the sky was the limit.  Alabama was rolling on Auburn, and looked poised to take out the number two seed, the one that was presumably going to be the only thing that could stand between Big Blue and a spot in the national championship game by the time the polls came out on Sunday.  Then the second half happened. 

Auburn caught every break.  Cam Newton somehow won everyone over to his Heisman campaign with 218 yards passing and 1.8 yards per carry (I’m still not sure how exactly such a performance did this, but the Auburn mess is a different column entirely).  Somehow, they managed to sneak by the Tide.  I was pissed, partly because I like to casually root for ‘Bama in the SEC, but mostly because of the implications that it could have had for Boise.  Still, there was hope, since Oregon was sure to be challenged by Arizona.

They were.  Sort of.  The Wildcats carried a lead into half time and appeared to be handling the potent Oregon attack.  Unfortunately, Mike Stoops made a decision that hasn’t received nearly as much scrutiny as you would expect, sending out his third string players for the second half (as far as I could tell.  There was no way it was the same group).  The move backfired, and the Ducks absolutely stomped the Wildcats in the second half. 

The whole afternoon was agonizing.  I made a point multiple times in the last couple of weeks, and it was grinding me as I watched on Friday.  I absolutely HATE rooting for random teams based on potential BCS implications.  I have to, though.  There is simply no alternative.  Sure, I would have been rooting for Alabama anyways, but it would have been a much more enjoyable experience if I had been on their side for the sake of being on their side, not for the sake of the computer polls.  Arizona, on the other hand, should mean nothing to me.  I don’t like Arizona.  I don’t want to root for them.

Friday afternoon also demonstrated the other reason that I am, for want of a better term, sick of this crap.  The other problem with constantly rooting for upsets is that most of the time they are potential upsets for a reason.  That reason: usually they don’t happen.  It leads to a whole lot of losing.  Somehow, rooting for a 10-0 team had lead to a lot of demoralizing Saturdays this fall.  On this particular day, it was two losses that could be described as devastating.  A late lead blown and a second half shellacking are both hard ways to go down.  By the 8:20 kickoff, I was already feeling 0-2 on the day.

Anyways, a jump to number two was out of the question by the time the Broncos kicked off, which was tough, but it would be forgotten once the game started and we got to watch them do their thing.   That was my attitude when my buddy texted me saying that he was frustrated by the first two games, and nervous about even watching Boise.  Forget that, I replied, watching that was agony.  This is the one that we get to enjoy. 

For the third time, the first half went great.  24-7. We were playing like…well, Boise State.  Nevada looked like another WAC team that we were going to roll.  The afternoon had been forgotten.  The usual sorts of thoughts were cropping back up.  48-14 at this pace.  That would be good.  That’s a statement.  Can we get 50?  Oregon State is tough enough.  The SEC Championship game is no joke.  At the very least we were going to jump TCU.  Everything seemed okay. 

Then, everything blew up.  It is painful to recap.  Brutal officiating.  Missed opportunities.  An offense that stalled, seemingly for the first time all year.  More brutal officiating.  We had a football game.  A defense that couldn’t get off the field.  The ball is bouncing Nevada’s way.  Nevada has the ball in our territory.  Down 1 score.  Toa and Kaepernick are having their way.  Third down conversion.  Third down conversion.  Tie game.  Wait?  What the..?  TIE GAME!?

It probably sounds hard to believe, given what would ensue, but this was the low point.  I still thought that we would pull it out.  I had faith that they couldn’t stop us, and in a way I was right.  But this was the low point, because the realization was that in the bigger picture, it probably wasn’t enough.  Even if we won, all of a sudden, it seemed unlikely that it would do anything other than keep us where we were.  We could still win the game, but the opportunity was lost.  If you have never rooted for a mid-major in this twisted system, I cannot possibly explain what this feels like.  A combination of emptiness and frustration are as good as I can do.  Like being cut from a team you know you deserved to make. 

Having said that, the feeling was pushed aside when Titus Young did what Titus Young does, and outran defenders playing with a 25 yard head start, pulling in a Kellen Moore bomb, and setting up a field goal with two seconds left.  If you care about sports enough to be reading this, though, you know what happened next.  I could rant about how I want Kyle Brotzman’s blood (I don’t), or about how I have studied the ‘missed’ field goal and really believe that it was good (I do), but it would be a waste of time.  You saw it.  We lost. 

It is still hard to put it all in perspective.  The nation’s longest winning streak was done.  Jumping TCU was done.  A top 2 finish was done.  For a year, Boise had been relevant.  Not anymore.  It all felt…wasted.  The time breaking it down had been for nothing.  For a scenario that would never come to life.  The calories burned caring had been a lead up to a massive disappointment.  Two questions stuck out:

Was this the peak of the Boise State Football program?

Could I even do this again next year?

It sounds kind of silly.  College football is, almost without question, my second favorite sport to follow, just behind the NHL.  On Friday, I thought I might be done with it.  No joke.  The emotional investment for something that disappeared so quickly was certainly a factor, but that wasn’t really it.  It wasn’t the loss.  It was the emotion right before the loss that threatened to drive me away.  Was it worth following a sport where I had to go through a day (a season, really), of being disappointed when teams that I don’t care about get wiped out by superior squads, only to have it rendered meaningless because the biggest game of my team’s season was too close?  The answer seemed to be no. 

A post game walk around the neighborhood in single digit temperatures (ill advised given a head cold, but satisfying none the less) and a night to sleep on it made it clear to me that there is no way I’m not watching college football just as avidly next year (although admittedly I had none of my usual interest in Saturday’s games).  I can’t give it up, not that I even want to.  I need to change something, though.  The obvious thing to let go of would be the intensity.  That isn’t realistic, though, either.  If I am going to watch, I am going to be a die hard for the only thing my home state produces of national relevance other than potatoes. 

Still, I have to change something, which brings me back to the first question.  I don’t know if Boise State peaked last week.  It will be impossible to say, at least until next year when the Kellen Moore era reaches its end and we know what ends up being accomplished with 11 under center.  Even if it wasn’t the peak, though, it was the end of an era.  The first regular season loss in three years ended the aura of invincibility.  It may well have taken the Broncos out of national relevance (for now), and out of the National Title discussion.  It could actually help. 

The thing about the Broncos over the last three years is that every game mattered so much that, in a weird way, none of them mattered.  Paradoxical as that may sound, it was the case.  No one win could have significance.    Not even wins over Oregon or Virginia Tech were victories unto themselves.  They were steps in an attempt to get to a perfect season.  And to have chaos rein at the top of the polls.  And to be the best non-AQ.  And to be high enough in the computers.  And to have the teams we beat win their other games so that our strength of schedule was high enough. 

It is just the 500001st way of saying that the system sucks.  The problem is, college football isn’t going to ditch it.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t.  That’s my goal for next year.  I can’t institute a playoff, but I can get rid of the BCS. 

It is game by game.  I will watch other games and root for the team that I like more, or not at all.  I’m done worrying if Oregon State was strong enough to make that a quality win, or if we were convincing enough to be the top ranked non-AQ.  I am going to enjoy watching Moore make every throw.  And watching Doug Martin run through tacklers.  I want wins to be wins again.  Not auditions for voters, or part of a run to some bowl.  This has been a great college football season.  I have enjoyed it.  But it has been frustrating as hell.  It shouldn’t be, and if I just enjoy games as games, nothing more, it won’t be.

So in the words of one of the greatest speakers of all time, Winston Churchill, ‘screw it’ (he had to have said it at some point).  I’m fired up for Utah State.  

1 comment:

Scott B said...

Well said Jackson.
I had been dreading the match-up with Nevada for most of the season, fearful that they had the best shot at crushing the dreams of the seniors on the best modern BSU team.
After the Hawaii and Fresno victories though, I changed my tune. Our defense was too good to let Nevada trip them up, our offense was quicker and faster than Nevada's defense...

It is a tough pill to swallow and time will heal this wound, but it won't come any time soon.

I look forward to the UT State game and the bowl game, but I can't help but look even further, toward 2011. Now even that is soured by TCU's decision to leave the Mountain West.

Looks like our new rival won't be TCU, but Nevada. I say, "Bring it on".