My son and I started out the New Year by staying at the resort hotel in Scottsdale that housed the Notre Dame football game, and had a great two days with friends in fabulous settings. Our seats at the games where in the loggia, a roof over our heads, free food, pleasant weather, and spectacular views of the whole field from about the 35-yard line. In the soft air, it was a little like paradise. Even the Notre Dame loss was not too bitter to take. Ohio State excelled in every part of the game, and ND did not get up to the same level they had in playing Southern Cal or Tennessee. Still, with five minutes to go, they were down by only one touchdown, and had just had a long touchdown after a fumble recovery called back. In the end, Ohio State had four long-distance touchdowns, accumulating more than 150 yards running, and 150 yards passing, on just those four downs. On the short-yardage game, holding off Ohio State, and getting some good drives themselves,Notre Dame seemed right up until the last long Ohio State run as if they could pull it out. But they could not stop those long breakaway plays. The Ohio State QB was so quick on his feet, and so versatile, that he bested a very good Brady Quinn.
Then there was the Penn State heart-stopper the next night. I grew up in the shadow of Penn State, and Joe Pa is one of my favorite classicists and coaches (he did teach classics before he coached). Moreover, in his autobiography, he called me his favorite theologian, so there isn’t much he can do wrong in my book–and he commended my hometown, Johnstown, for the great football players it used to send him, like Jack Hamm. This game went into three overtimes, and my heart felt a bit threatened three times when it seemed that Joe Pa’s boys might lose after all. But in the end, the last points in the third overtime went to them, and it was a glorious night.
That exhilaration had barely died when perhaps the greatest Bowl Game of all time was played, and Texas guttily bested the seemingly unbeatable Southern California Trojans. The performance by Vince Young at QB may have been the single greatest individual performance in college football history. He was IN CHARGE. His will simply triumphed over all the odds and all the difficulties. What an absolutely great game, right down to the last play down Texas had.
Incidentally, that meant the Southern Cal had played in TWO of the greatest games in history, and in the same season. For the ND-Southern Cal game in October was equally exciting, and even settled on the last play of the game, in the last second. In the ND game, Southern Cal seemed on their faces more certain of being defeated during the last minutes–until their almost miraculous victory in the last fifty seconds–than they showed in the Texas game. Texas seems to me like a far stronger team than ND, but give USC credit for producing two unbelievably exciting and hard-fought games. I am afraid I still think that USC is better than Texas. But they were not so on the one night that mattered in this new year.
As if that were not enough, I have just finished watching the Redskins exhaust themselves on field against the powerful defense of Tampa Bay, and yet come away with a 17-10 victory. They did this while making only 121 yards offensively the whole night. The least offensive yardage ever in an NFL playoff victory. Coach Gibbs was totally spent at the end of the game, and his whole staff with him. Coach Gruden was impressively manful, in his disappointment.
What a great week for heroism, character, and brilliant play. And truly impressive strategic and tactical intelligence, on the part of coaches and– to a surprising extent– players, who often showed they had their own ideas.
Golly, I love this game. I thank God for it. And also for the fact that it lasts not quite half the year–allowing me to get at least a little work done in the other part of the year