Saturday, October 15, 2005

Cash Me Out

Cash me out.
I'm rakin' in my chips and pushing back. If, as ol' Kenny said, you
have to know when to hold 'em, fold 'em and when to walk away, then now
is most emphatically the time to run.

28 wins. "I was there." Cash me out. Call me Alan Greenspan cuz
I'm walking away from this irrational exuberance before it swallows my
rationality, my 401K and possibly cardiac health.

Because what could be more irrational than the final 5+ minutes of
that game? If ever USC was Yahoo! at 120, it was the moment Brady
Quinn - so young, alone and unafraid that he looked embarrassed to be
there - trotted out, down by 4 and 85 yards away.

In keeping with any close Notre Dame game, I was desperately
reciting the rosary of Close Calls in the last 2 years and the escape
hatches SC had found each time. Moments that, at the time, felt big.

Though, we know now, they weren't.

There was the 2nd half dominance at Stanford 2 years ago. The way
they kept UCLA at bay in the final game. And Cal, when Aaron Rodgers
couldn't do it all. Last week there was Arizona, a mentally strong
team playing it's biggest game of the decade against a distracted SC;
one-trick but talented ASU the week before; and a lucky and brave, if
overmatched, Oregon the week before that. Hell, there was even VaTech
from 2 season-openers ago, the phantom pass interference and the way SC
capitalized on that sliver of opportunity.

All, in retrospect, were sure-thing, easy wins made dramatic not be the events on the field but
the ever-increasing weight of all the moments before piled on top.

I was madly flipping through those mental index cards - a fumble? A
key sack? Poor clock management and they'll run out of time? - as
Brady Quinn trotted out.

Afterall, hadn't SC just done The SC Thing? March down the field,
late, like the other team was wearing high heels? (nice grass, by the
way - we'll get to that).

And with all those thoughts, I was absolutely sure Brady Quinn was
going to- well, do what he did.

Drive ND down the field. mechanically, with trickery, smarts and
talent, take the lead and smoke off just enough clock to end the game.

And he did. Almost.

Three minutes later he made one mistake -
on a first-down inside the 30, he handed off to Walker, who gained
almost 20 yards, nearly scoring right there and insuring ND was going
to get in with about 2 minutes left, which they did.

(well, sort of - they gave Quinn the TD on a scramble where his
knees sure looked down at the 3 - NBC, house-organ to the end, never
replayed the decisive angle).

Only, thanks to that big gain, he did it with 2:04 left.

Door slightly open. Well, more like not double-bolted.

But out trotted Leinart and Bush and White and the rest, and they
looked beat. Slow, heads tilted almost imperceptably but vitally down.
NDs defense met at midfield. They looked smaller - they were - but
more alert and hungrier. They had only to play out the inevitable and
that would be it.

Then that sack. Third and 19. Hardly a whimper.

Underneath to Reggie, two jukes and dropped.

4th and 8. 4th and forever. 4th and 27-wins. 4th and the those
cheap-gimmick jersies. 4th and the whole unbearable, hometown-honk NBC

Time out. the last time out. Oh, get it over with...

To the line. Leinart waves his arms - an audible? You mean they
blew the timeout to salvage their whole season and he STILL thinks he's
so smart that he's gonna call a- HE CAUGHT IT! HE'S RUNNING! ANY FLAGS? NO FLAGS! STILL RUNNING! TOUCHD- tackled at the 10! Ok, fine, tackled at the 10, i mean, that's
good, right? it still counts, right? he, he, he- AT THE 10!

(here it comes, an oldy but goody, and if Dan Jenkins ever had a
moment in mind when he put it in the playbook, this is it:)


So now they're at the 10. The market held. Hoth held. Impossible

Fortunately somebody - certainly not me - was aware that SC still
had to, ya know, score the requisite points to exceed Notre Dame's
total score. It was a requirement - trivial as it seemed - that could
not be waved.

And they had a minute to do it.

Reggie run. Nope. Less than a minute.

Clocks running here - do we need a FG? They're gonna pass, right?
I mean, I know it's all just a matter of semantics now, getting the
points and flying off into history, but they actually HAVE TO DO IT so-
Leinart, keeper, SMASHES into three guys in the corner, lands in the
endzone - Touchdown!!!

No? Down at the- seven seconds left!!! We can't los- wait, he HAD
to get in- this can-

And we lost. Right there, on the no-inch(sic) line, on the last
desperate dive, on the shoulders of the defending Heisman winner, in a flurry of
confusion and fear, we lost.

And, after 15 seconds, I was feeling good - boots on, blaze of glory. We would have
the dignity of falling to the sword of desperation and effort, not on the
tip on an NBC script, and that, for me was going to be enough.

Oh well. We lost.

And then, impossibly, we didn't.

Fumble out of bounds.

Not, vitally, a fumble THROUGH the endzone, which would have been a
touchback and the ballgame, but an honest fumble out of bounds, to,
preposterously, stop the clock.

It even looked - and here's the kicker - totally accidental.

Luck? Hey ND, you can complain as soon as you stop somebody on 4th down and CUT YOUR GRASS!!! Maybe next time, Lucky Shirts. Until then, no complaints entertained.

Camera shows Carroll - spike it! Spike it! Translation: field
goal and overtime. Of course. What ELSE could you do?
Unless that's a fake. Or unless Matt and Reggie and the 11 guys out
there living this absurd moment decide to ride one more crest.

Snap. Push. Not in. Not even close. Roll right. Second surge.

Over, maybe- maybe-

Ref throws up his arms.

Leinart did it.

He limps and lunges to the sideline, alone and unafraid, and totally
empty. Two teammates carry him from the scene. He can't even stand.
They follow him to the bench. His teammates swarm him, he shrugs them
off. In the densest, brightest stadium on earth, he finds a quiet spot on the
bench and the hero of the moment - the man who led the drive, who made
the throw, who made the call, who made the dive, who won the day -
drops his head in hands and appears to start crying.

I've been saying all year there was too much between SC and the
finish line to pull it off - too much Pac 10, too many ND and Fresno,
too many chances to not win 32 straight.

I still thinks so. Now more than ever. I wrote a year ago that, to
build a 10 point lead on USC, Stanford cashed in 11 years of good
luck in 30 minutes: a once-a-year play (fake punt for TD) and once a
decade play (70 yard belly-run on last play of the half). They had no
more luck to trade away, which made SC's 2nd half comeback inevitable.
USC, winners of 28 in a row, 2-time national champs, with the last
Heisman winner and the but-for-Vince-Young next Heisman winner in the
backfield, has no more luck to trade away.

Legacy? They won, in a gaudy blowout, the 'Heaviest' game of all time - the
first-ever dueling Heisman winners, in a 1-vs-2 Orange Bowl showdown.
But that was no legacy. Too easy, and what was worth remembering,
Ashley Simpson ruined. In a way, they were cheated.
In fact, prior to last night, they had a shootout with surface-of-mercury-hot QB in Aaron Rodgers, and that was it.

Not anymore - now they've stared down Notre Dame in the only game Notre Dame will ever
have to beat the best USC team of all time, to break the streak, to do it
in South Bend, to grow the playbook and the grass for 2 weeks, to
wear the 'undefeated' jersies, yada yada yada.

Charlie Wiess could win three national titles, but he'll never be remembered more vividly for another moment.

Nothing more you can ask of a season or a team.

Now I'm gonna watch UT and stop trying to think of phony reasons that SC would stop Vince
Young. Now I get to watch UGA-Florida with Mandy and not worry about
secretly scouting their secondary. Now I get to find the next
Furman-Appalachian State crazy-finish on obscure cable and brag about
having seen it.
I'm gonna check into this Wisconsin offense, this Ohio State D and
this Penn State everything. And hey! Didn't you used to be Alabama?!?

Come to think of it, this might have been the greatest
college game of all time but this SURELY was the greatest football
Saturday that ever was. The Big 10 played 5 games and they all came down to the final snap. Same with Alabama. And UCLA/WSU. And West Virginia/Louisville. And UVA/Florida State.

And I pretty much missed it cuz of this whole
streak/jersies/legacy/7-inch-turf thing.

No more.

If SC loses out from here - even to Fresno St. (lousy Freedom
Bowl....) - my smile won't fade a shade (yes, even UCLA - i'll take a
loss there. It's time for that game to mean something again, and unlike ND, USC is the only road home for UCLA).

I wrote an essay two years ago - the night Carson beat ND, the night
the run truly began - where i asked for a moment of forgiveness while i
looked around and admired the view from the up here, cuz i'd never been
so high up the mountain.

Well, here's the top. Let me off. No more admiring the view - time
to head back to the lodge.

Good luck with Cal and UCLA and whoever you end up with in a bowl. I hope you win'em all (and I hope you don't get Texas, for your sake,
or Georgia, for mine). I hope you end up #1, three in a row. After that, you deserve it.

But cash me out.


ps - got UGA-Vandy on in the background as I type this. Somebody from
Vandy is from Howey-in-the-Hills, FL. See? Now I get to pay attention
to more shit like that.

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