January 1st 2007, Game Time.
Ok, I realize that I have been procrastinating finishing this series of posts about my incredible trip to the Fiesta Bowl. I’ve been thinking as to why this is. The only thing that I can come up with is that the event was so momentous and unbelievable that I don’t think my writing skills are adequate enough to be able to capture it. To this day, exactly one month removed from the actual event, I’m still at a loss of words as to what it all meant.
But, I need to finish this thing, so here goes. To the best of my ability…
At the tailgate party we could feel that the crowd was thinning. The time was approaching, so we decided to head in. It was still 2 hours to kickoff but, we might as well get in there.
Speaking of the tailgate party, I forgot to post one video I took. Just to give you the feel of the event.
On the walk to the stadium, through the parking lot we finally ran into all of the OU fans. The parking lot was FULL of those maroon clad denizens of Oklahoma. It finally struck me as to why we hadn’t seen many of them at all the previous events. See, this wasn’t their first time around the merry-go-round. Many of these people, assuredly, have followed their team to many BCS bowl games, including National Championship games. Either they are smart enough to skip the $20 hot dogs, or perhaps it’s more a case of they have become accustomed, if not a little jaded to the whole rigmarole. Whereas us Bronco fans were attending anything and everything because we were just so wide eyed and eager. Perhaps.
We submit to the pat-downs in the line and we were in the gate. It was here. I almost felt like I should see a sign “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” as nervous as I was. My heart was already beating a million miles a minute, and I hadn’t even seen the playing surface yet!
John was most excited about the fact that there were escalators taking us up. Our seats were in the 400 level (very top) and he was absolutely dreading the climb up there. He was telling me for weeks leading up to the game that I had better get into shape in order to drag his ass to the top of the stadium, but alas, he was able to make it.
We made it up to our seats and it was an amazing sight. John, even with the escalator help was still quite winded and none to pleased for having to actually climb some stairs after all. The picture as we made it to our seats says it all.
The view we had was tremendous. Even for being in the top section, you didn’t get the feeling that the field was too far away. Also, as it turned out we were in what would come to be the most important corner of the stadium. More on that later.
We sat there for a few moments, just soaking it all in. We were among the first people in, and it was interesting to see the trickle of people coming in. Eventually, that would change to a flood. The stadium is amazing. There were a few things missing that a modern stadium I think should have, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
One thing that I noticed is that all of the official “Fiesta Bowl” banners and whatnot were all blue and orange. I thought to myself that had to be a good omen. I know they were probably all produced LONG before the Broncos (and as it turned out a week later, the Gators) were announced, but it was interesting that both blue and orange clad teams won, isn’t it?
I wanted to explore the stadium a bit and see what the concession stands had to offer. Amazingly enough, that $20 hotdog wasn’t enough. We walked to the opposite end and saw the flood of Bronco fans filing into their endzone seats. If you squint really hard, you can see John still sitting in our seats in the photo to the right (upper left hand corner). He wasn’t about to go back down without a damn good reason.
Beers, as you can expect were $7 a piece for 12 ounces, so I wasn’t that interested. So, I got a personal pizza and a coke (in a souvenir cup) and headed back up.
As we watched the teams stretch and more and more Bronco fans file in, we discussed the game. John and I had been throwing out our predictions of the game. We were both in the 27-21 final score range. We both predicted that Boise State could win, but would have to get some breaks from the Sooners. Really, we were both just hoping that it remained close. Every Bronco fan remembers what happened at Georgia last year. If that was to happen again, it could DESTROY the credibility of this program on a national level.
When I first saw the Sooners come out of the locker room, I was really taken aback. I couldn’t really tell their size from so far away, but what really struck me was their uniforms. I mean, those are famous! One of the most storied programs in the history of college football. SEVEN national championships. It was now that I really couldn’t believe that my Broncos were on the same field with them. I grew up seeing them play the traditional powers of Eastern Washington and Weber State. This matchup was unthinkable even 4 years ago, let alone 15.
As the arena continued to fill, the Bronco fans were in full effect. The amount of noise was crazy, and we were still 45 minutes away from kick off. When the BSU punters and kickers came out of the tunnel (before anyone else was out there) we all went bonkers. When the rest of the team came out it was even louder. And this was just for the warmups.
I do have one bone to pick with Bronco fans. I think a lot of it has to do with a bunch of ‘new’ fans that have just found the team in the past few years. I’m not ripping them at all, the more the merrier, but they do need to learn one thing. The most famous chant we do is the “BOISE!….. STATE!….” chant. (A Youtube example here …not mine). See, what is happening here (and in the video too) is people try to go too fast with it. There is supposed to be at least a one count between the end of ‘Boise’ and the start of ‘State’. Back in the day, it was a slower, louder, longer cheer. Now, people try to rush through it. Notice in the video the pause between “STATE” and the next “BOISE”… that should be in the middle too. I remember being a kid at basketball games in the 80′s. There was one guy who was loud enough to lead the entire Pavilion in that cheer. He would belt out the “BOISE” at the top of his lungs, and everyone else would follow with the “STATE!”. It was tremendous. But, it was slower. I’m going to make it my mission to try to slow the chant back down to where it is supposed to be. I have no idea how to do that, but I want to make that happen. Ok… end rant.
The teams retreated to their locker rooms and we were treated to the bands performing. I think I have mentioned how much I love marching bands and this was MORE than welcome. I was really dreading having some sort of overly choreographed “Up With People” sort of performance… the kind you see at the Super Bowl and turn off. But, we just got the bands instead. They were even performing at halftime. Perfect!
Now we were really getting close. National Anthem time. Performed by the West Point glee club. Another godsend. The last thing I wanted was to have someone like Jessica Simpson out there slaughtering our anthem. During the song, the rolled out a flag the size of the field. It was very impressive.
Next, it was time for the teams to come out. I will say, I’m really glad that we were considered the ‘away’ team for this game, which allowed us to wear my favorite uniforms. The white jersey, orange pants and blue helmet look so sharp. I love the looks of them. And when the team followed the horse onto the field, the Bronco half of the stadium went NUTS. It was as loud a noise as I’ve ever heard. (Of course, that noise was to pale in comparison as to what was coming). Sorry for the blurriness of these pictures. My camera was not designed for such distances!
What else will you notice happens when we came out? That’s right. Fireworks. Fireworks… in a dome. They shot them off at the end of the anthem. They shot them off when OU came out. They shot more off we came out. Now, I’m no expert, but when you shoot smoke producing fireworks off in a dome, there really isn’t anywhere for the smoke to go. So, it just sits there. Look how crystal clear the picture of the flag is above. It was a shame they didn’t just OPEN THE ROOF to get it out. Side note, for the National Championship game a week later… no fireworks. Go figure.
Boise State won the toss and deferred to the second half. As I told John… hey at least we won something!
Once we kicked off (yes, I’m going to do the sports fan thing and refer to the Broncos as ‘we’ the rest of the article) my head was swimming. I don’t know if it was from a contact high from the firework smoke or the fact that I had been mainlining adrenalin all day. But it was here.
Oklahoma’s offense on the field and the Bronco D is absolutely flying around. They look like they are higher than a kite. I never knew I could shout non-stop for so long. We were absolutely willing those guys to play well.
Broncos force a punt and we went wild. I can’t even describe how big the fans stepped up. For the majority of the game, we WAY out ‘noised’ the Sooner fans.
After a spectacular catch for a first down by Schouman, Zabransky finds a wide open Drisan James for the 50 yard score. Beautiful play fake by Z and we’re just going berserk. And just when I thought we couldn’t be louder, the next series our defense forces and recovers a fumble inside their 10 yard line and Ian Johnson scores 2 plays later. The lid came off the joint!
14-0 was beyond our wildest dreams. (Pictures are just before and just after the Ian Johnson touchdown). The guys who were sitting behind us (whom I told I was planning on going to for high-fives all game) were jumping around and we were grinning ear to ear at each other. No way this game is going to be this easy, but this is a GREAT way to start! We look well prepared and not awed at all. Good sign.
Oklahoma then puts together a very methodical scoring drive for the touchdown to make it 14-7. They later tack on a field goal to cut the lead to 14-10.
We just kept making as much noise as possible when we were on defense. Remarkably, when we were on offense, their fans only seemed to put a half hearted effort into it. Maybe they just came in expecting us to roll over or something?
When just before half time, Zabransky hits Drisan James again for that unbelievable touchdown on the broken play, we went bonkers. What an individual effort by both Z and Dri on the same play. I turned to Kim and said that play made up for every drop Drisan had this season (he seemed to have a case of the drops a good deal of the year). Thats how amazing it was.
Halftime and we are up 21-10. Our offense has been moving the ball well and defense is playing great. Making tackles and forcing punts. Turnovers were big (like we thought they’d be) Here are the fans as the teams head in to the locker rooms.
My hands were shaking. I couldn’t even hold them still. My head was pounding. Between the shouting and emotions, the back of my head felt like it would split. It felt like I was drunk, but I hadn’t touched a drop of booze all day. John and I discused the fact that we might have witnessed the best half of football ever (“best” meaning “most exciting”). Little did we know what the second half would have in store.
While the bands to their thing at half time, I sat down to write a few notes. I have notes in there like “So loud” and “national commentators wrong!” and “one half to go!”.
Finally, they decided to open the roof to get some of the smoke out. For the life of me I don’t understand what took so long. What exactly is the point of having a retractable roof if you’re not going to use it to make the experience more comfortable? Hmmmm?
I would like to take this chance to say again for the record here, how glad I am that we as a team have orange as one of our colors. When you have a large group of people wearing orange, it just really stands out so well. I love seeing a huge mass of orange clad fans. Even our blue is good, but it doesn’t touch the orange.
I have one other problem with the way the game was presented in this stadium. I would never have guessed that the Fiesta Bowl would have something in common with games played in Utah, Nevada Reno, and U of Idaho. And that is? LACK OF STATS. How on earth can you have a state of the art brand new stadium and not provide ANY STATS WHATSOEVER!?! That is one of my all time pet peeves. I mean, they made no effort at all to let us know how anyone was doing. At very least, take the 2 minutes at the end of half time and tell us who has done what, and some stat leaders. All we had for the whole game was what the scoreboard told us. Quarter, game clock, play clock, down and distance, time outs left and score. Thats it. No rushing leaders. No # of first downs. No nothing. Apparently, I’m spoiled by games at Bronco Stadium where they have both stat boards for each team, as well as tell us the halftime individual leaders. Who knew that was so friggin difficult?!
Anyway, it was time for the second half. Now, I have to be honest here, I don’t remember as much of the second half. My brain was on overload the entire time. The overload really started when Marty Tadman picked off that pass and scampered the 20 yards into the end zone. I’m surprised that none of us fell down and broke an arm with the amount of jumping around and high fiving that was going on.
We thought we had it at that point. Here we were, midway through the 3rd quarter and its 28-10. Their offense hadn’t been that impressive all game. We really believed it was going to happen. Of course, in sports thats usually when something comes up to bite you on the ass.
Our offense then started to sputter, but the D was still playing great. The play that changed the game was the punt that hit off the leg of one of our players. We had stopped them again and they were demoralized. Forcing yet another punt. Thats when the tide changed. Next thing you know, they have possession deep in our end and score easily. 28-17. That’s ok… we’re still 2 scores ahead. We get one more field goal, and this thing is iced.
Instead, they get the additional field goal to make it 28-20 with time winding down in the 4th. We get stopped before the first down line on a drive that could have really iced the game, and gave them the ball back with enough time to score. All of a sudden, they are connecting on every pass. Quick outs to get out of bounds and stop the clock.
I remember telling John, “well, at least they can only tie it with a TD and 2 point conversion”. That was our worst case scenario and the way our D had been playing, I thought we could hold out.
They finally score the touchdown on that tipped (nearly picked) pass. Ohhh… pick that one off and we win! We all looked like someone had just kicked our dog. But, they still had to get that 2 pointer. Then came that absolute bullshit pass interference call on the first try that they missed terribly. My thought was that the damn refs were going to try to steal this game for OK. I was so angry. I could make that call and I was as far away from that play as could be. Then again, I might be a touch biased on this point. Their second attempt was completed, but I immediately saw the flag thrown as they snapped the ball.
Which set up the final attempt. Nothing to complain about on this one, it was just a great play on their part.
Exhale… ok… there is still some time on the clock. Minute and a half. That is enough time to get into field goal range and put this one away. Again, worst case is we go to overtime. Me and my big mouth.
When Zabransky threw that pick-six my stomach actually physically sank. It really felt like I had been punched. I saw their stands going absolutely crazy and all of us were catatonic. We had led this game for the whole thing, and now we are going to lose in the final minutes. Gave it away. I have never felt so bad in my life. I’ve seen Boise State lose some big games, but this was horrible. I thought I might puke.
I distinctly remember thinking, “It’s fitting… Zabransky will end our season and his career with the worst interception I’ve ever seen”. It was “Georgia” rearing its ugly head again. I will be honest… I was done. I had nothing left. I just stood there, blank faced. I couldn’t even form words, I was so disappointed. I never wanted anything more in my life than I wanted this win, and we had it. Had it in our hands. Now its gone.
When we got the ball back, I had ZERO confidence that we could get it back. None. I saw people filing out and didn’t blame them (although I would never think of leaving a Boise State game early. I only have one time in my entire life, but thats another story).
Get to midfield. Sack. Incompletion. Incompletion. 4th and 18 with 18 seconds left. We knew it was over.
Then it happened. You all know what I’m talking about. Call it “hook and ladder” or “hook and lateral”. I call it a miracle. I can’t even remember if I cheered while it was happening. I don’t know if I had enough energy to produce sound. All I know is I see Jerard Rabb racing towards us with the ball. The most amazing play on the biggest stage against the most improbable odds and it happened directly in front of us. My god, we tied the game.
At this point, I was officially DONE. I was seriously in a state of shock. I’m not even sure if I remember enjoying what happened next or not. I know I wasn’t cheering. I couldn’t. I couldn’t make a sound. It suddenly dawned on me that I have WAY too much wrapped up into this game. I knew I love Bronco Football too much, but when it can do this to me, maybe it’s not healthy. My psyche couldn’t take it.
We win the toss and defer (giving them the ball first) and they get to select the end they want to play at. They picked our end! OU comes out and with one play, they march right over top of us for the score. Wow. That looked really easy for them. At least we got the ball for a chance to tie it up.
After another huge play from Schouman and a big run by Ian, we dodged a HUGE bullet with the almost fumble. In the stands, we couldn’t tell either live or from the replays in the stadium that is knee was down. We were praying it was. Luckily, he was down. Whew. (again, just another reason why I couldn’t muster any emotion. It was so close to being all gone so many times, I couldn’t keep bouncing back!).
Fourth and 2. Good lord. How many times can everything ride on ONE play. When Zabransky went in motion, I had no idea what to think. I thought Perretta would run it, since I had seen him do that many times this year. I couldn’t believe when he threw it. Schouman was the only guy in the the endzone. Again, he made a HUGE play. This touchdown was more of a relief than it was pure joy. I think the reason was that since they had scored so easily and we had to struggle, we still only matched them.
John immediately said, “We gotta go for two here.” My first reaction was NO WAY, but when I thought about it for a second, it made perfect sense. Don’t give them the ball again. Go out and make one play for the win. Don’t let them back on the field. Of course, that was what Coach Pete called.
Now, we have all seen the following statue of liberty play a thousand times (or maybe its just me that has seen it that many times). But it happened right in front of us. As I wrote in my first ‘reaction’ piece, somehow I knew that no matter what happened on this play, my life wouldn’t be the same. When Johnson got the ball, I immediately remember seeing this play up in Moscow against the Vandals. (it was one of the few plays I remember seeing.)
I saw him scream out into the flat, and I realized that there was nobody there to stop him. That was when all hell broke loose. I swear to god, I blacked out for at least 10 seconds in the madness. I don’t remember what happened in the ensuing joyous melee. Next thing I remember was hugging John. I remember seeing Kim crying, which made me start crying.
Seldom times in life are you in a situation with so many other people being affected as much by a common event. And when you are, it’s usually something horrible. This was, perhaps, the greatest day of my life. I was near catatonia and all John and I could repeat was “That actually happened” and shake our heads. We just stood there. Absolutely dumbstruck, watching the players go crazy on the field and seeing the Oklahoma stands empty quickly. Then again, perhaps it wasn’t that quickly because I lost all connection to the time-space continuum. Might have been 20 seconds… might have been 20 minutes. One of the girls behind us had the best line of the night. She was on her cell to a friend back home and said, “You should have sold your car to get down here!”. You think that friend was kicking themselves? How long we stood there watching the post game festivities? I have no idea. Maybe 10 minutes. Maybe 30. I honestly can’t tell you.
Here are a couple videos I took during the post game. I barely remember taking them. First one right after the game ended and the initial craziness died down a bit. Second one was when they were interviewing Ian Johnson and he proposed.
Finally, all the festivities were over, and we empty shells what were once humans began filtering out. Kim and Chris skedaddled to make sure they made their charter bus to the airport. John, Ilinda and I wandered back to the car and spent a good amount of time trying to get out of the parking lot. We were listening to sports radio, and that was our first exposure to just how huge this game was. Kinda funny that when you’re there, the bigger significance can be lost. But once you get a taste of what the world is saying, it starts to sink in.
Unfortunately, we all had early flights in the morning. Had to leave for the airport at 5:30 in order for them to make their flight and return the rental car. My flight didn’t leave until 9:40. We said our good-byes at the rental return as we were in different terminals. As I rode the shuttle to the airport, the bus was filled with Broncos. Nobody was talking much but everyone had these dumb little grins on their faces, myself included. We would just kinda catch each other’s eyes, smile a bit and nod. It was quite amusing.
I had a long time to wait for my plane, so I wanted to get a Cinnabon and a couple newspapers. I didn’t have any cash on my so I wandered around to try to find an ATM. There was not a single ATM anywhere near my gate. I walked down a whole other terminal, still no dice. I ended up having to use my card for a $3.14 purchase and a $1.75 purchase. That makes me crazy.
They did have TV’s on, and one was tuned to World News Now (ABC I think) and even they were doing a big segment on the game and the proposal. Amazing.
I made it back to SLC without incident and hopped in the car for the trip home. I got to listen to more sports talk radio, including a local Salt Lake guy who couldn’t have been more complimentary of the Broncos. They kept playing the Paul J radio calls of the big plays, and I swear I teared up more than once as the goosebumps on my goosebumps went nuts.
I pulled into Boise, finally around 5pm. Exhausted yet exhilarated at the same time. I have spent every day since watching, listening, reading, or thinking about the game and what it means to me. That is the next step. Put all of this in context. Not just for someone who might read it out here on the web… but for myself too.
What a trip. Literally. I still can’t believe it happened.