Reflections on the Fiesta Bowl

I don’t know where you were last Friday, but I was at home witnessing a spectacle, the greatest game since my Pats shocked the world in Super Bowl XXXIV. On the night of January 3rd, I stood in awe of the best College Football National Championship Game in recent history. For four quarters of regulation time and two overtime periods, the #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes and #2 Ohio State Buckeyes traded blows in a heavyweight brawl of old-fashioned, smash mouth football for the ages. Somewhere, Paul “Bear” Bryant is smiling. The “Demolition in the Desert” was a glorious mix of Ali-Foreman (“The Rumble in the Jungle”) and Patriots-Rams. Just like Ali and the Pats, few gave the Buckeyes a chance. Despite the critics, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel did his best Tom Brady impression, showing tremendous heart and doing only just enough to get the job done. Ohio State held an onslaught of Miami weapons in check before mustering up a sufficient attack when it mattered the most. Defenses on both sides crushed offensive players “like runaway trucks” said Keith Jackson, the game’s television play-by-play man. Hearts leapt as Miami kicker Todd Sievers hit a game tying field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime. Numerous penalties served as additional tracks for this roller-coaster ride, including a pass interference call in the first overtime that changed a Miami victory celebration into another life for Ohio State. The Buckeyes seized their opportunity as the bout pressed on. But in the end the game, as well as both teams’ seasons, came down to one play. In the second overtime, Miami had the ball on the Ohio State one-yard line, trailing 31-24 and needing a touchdown to tie the game. The Buckeye defense stood strong for three straight downs, looking to finish off the Hurricanes on the fourth down with the goal-line stand of their lives. Miami senior quarterback Ken Dorsey, who came into the game with a career starting record of 36-1 and suffered an arm injury earlier in Miami’s final drive, dropped back, looking for a chance. However, all he saw was OSU linebacker Cie Grant blitzing from his right side. Grant dragged Dorsey down, leaving the Hurricane QB to throw up a prayer, only to watch it be smacked to the ground. Game over. David had slain Goliath once again. I expected to be engulfed by the joy of Ohio State’s underdog victory, much like our Patriots triumph last year. Yet, as great as the game was, its conclusion lay bittersweet and heavy in my stomach. I do not have any bad feelings towards Ohio State, nor am I a big fan of Miami. Nevertheless, in a game of this magnitude, with such tantalizing tastes of wonderful victory and exasperating defeat, no young man deserves to fall. Just as the death of your favorite character in an epic film leaves you walking away in sorrow, I sunk, no matter how good the movie was. Willis McGahee was my favorite character in this epic story. The Hurricane running back rose out of pain and adversity to set numerous school rushing records and finish fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, the award given to the best college football player in America, as a sophomore. Willis is described as a Mama’s boy, one who witnessed the death of one of his brothers at a young age. He began the year as a backup before working hard and rushing past the injured starter at the beginning of the year. The rest, as they say, is history. He racked up over 1686 yards and 27 TDs, marks that place him with the best backs to ever play college football. However, even more admirable, those stats never changed the big heart and true Mama’s boy inside Willis McGahee. Those stats didn’t matter last Friday either when Willis ran against the talented Buckeye defense. Though not up to his usual high standards, Willis played a solid game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, McGahee had carried the ball 20 times for 67 yards and scored a touchdown. Now trailing 17 -14, the Hurricanes had driven down the field to the Buckeye 35-yard line, nearly in field goal range. On 3rd and 10, Miami needed a big play, so QB Ken Dorsey looked to Miami’s best player, Willis McGahee. He threw the ball to McGahee on a short pass to the right side, hoping Willis would work his magic for a first down and more. Willis caught the ball and turned up field, finding only Ohio State safety Will Allen between him and a big gain up the sideline. He accelerated and lowered his shoulders, hoping to run through Allen and into the open field. His plan did not work out, however, as Allen dove at his legs and sent McGahee crashing to the ground. No dirty hit was made. Allen had no intentions of hurting Willis, but what took place almost cannot be put into words. I would tell you to watch the video, but the sight of McGahee’s knee is too much to take. It was the type of hit that made you grab your own knee and thank the Lord that it was still there. For when Allen dove low, the left knee of Willis McGahee was twisted around and bent awkwardly to the ground, tearing both the MCL and ACL of his left leg in the process. I had to look away. I couldn’t watch Willis, that Mama’s boy and my favorite character in this incomparable story, burst into tears on the field. Although the rest of his team would seem to endure the longest yard by getting stopped on the one-yard line later in the game, Willis McGahee had traveled that longest yard many times over. He had done it growing up, watching his brother die, and blowing out his knee just trying to fight back to the line of scrimmage. Willis McGahee was a bright prospect for the NFL. His size, speed, and power made scouts drool and owners pay millions to acquire him. Though only a sophomore, McGahee still might have left college and chosen to enter the NFL draft this summer, achieving his dream to play in the NFL. However, after this injury, as color commentator Dan Fouts said on ABC, “…the word is that Willis had numerous shoe and sneaker companies looking to sign him…he won’t have that anymore.” Thankfully, he is only sophomore and has that big heart and all of us to root for him in the years to come. I just hope that amidst glorious games like this one, the great stories of the Willis McGahees of this world are not forgotten. For then, as Fouts said afterwards, “Hang in there, Willis. You’ll be back.” All in all, this season’s National Championship had everything: drama, tragedy, courage, and best of all, a new champion. Congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes on a job and season well done.