Monday, September 12, 2011

That definitely happened

Back before I was married, I had no life and spent 90 percent of my free time playing NCAA 04/05/06 with my cousin. My job comprised roughly 40 hours of boredom each week, and that was the only thing standing in the way of complete NCAA assimilation.

So my cousin would come over at night and we'd pop in the game (well, it was already in the system, but you know what I mean) and play hours upon hours of our co-op dynasty. One game in particular was so epic, so ridiculously unbelievable and so memorable that to this day, all one of us has to say is "the Iowa game" and we'll both know exactly what it means. This is despite the fact that real-life Michigan has played real-life Iowa in many real-life games -- "the Iowa game" transcends those.

I don't even remember the exact details leading up to the final 10-ish seconds, but they don't really matter anyway. The important stuff: It was an unusually difficult game, and Iowa was leading with under a minute left. With something like 30 seconds on the clock, we/Michigan scored in relieving fashion for what would've been something like our 78th consecutive win (this must have been over multiple dynasties, because the players on our team were still the current Michigan players). But it wasn't over: Iowa went down and (again, I don't remember exactly how) scored to regain the lead and crush our souls with about five seconds left. This was devastating -- not winning a national championship was simply not acceptable.

Anyway, Iowa kicked off and we let it go through the endzone so the clock wouldn't run out while we were busy getting out to the 27-yard line. We called the good ol' Hail Mary.

One of the issues with deep balls back in those versions of NCAA was that the knockdown/inaccuracy rate was near zero. In general, the ball was either caught or intercepted. And since it was impossible to catch a ball carrier from behind (speed rating became oddly irrelevant), a catch was usually a touchdown. This made having Braylon Edwards on the team a lot of fun.

So we lined up at our own 20-yard line with five wides -- Edwards on the left, I think -- and my cousin controlling the virtual Chad Henne. As the play unfolded, it became apparent that Iowa was playing a Cover 2 or something ridiculous, because Jason Avant was running like five yards behind everybody up the right sideline. I don't remember if I saw this before or after the throw went in his direction, but since I wasn't the quarterback at the moment, it didn't matter. The throw was perfect, the catch was made (as they all were back in those days) and the yardage in front of Avant just gave us a few extra seconds to celebrate.

Never before or since* have I won a game in such ridiculous fashion. An 80-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the game?!? That just doesn't happen. In fact, that was the only thing that took away from the enjoyment -- sometimes I get that little OCD-generated voice in my head that says "not realistic." But that was a minor blip in the excitement (remember, I had no life).
. . . . .

When Notre Dame went up 14-0 Saturday night and Michigan didn't have a first down, I sent a text that said something like "this is gonna be ugly." When Notre Dame scored late in the third quarter to go up 24-7, I told my wife, "I'm pretty sure it's over." Shortly after that, with Michigan at the Notre Dame 1-yard line and about to run the first play of the fourth quarter, I sent another text that said a bunch of negative stuff and ended with "we need some magic."

Magic ensued.

The string of unbelievable events: A potentially hope-ending fumble by Stephen Hopkins that Denard casually picks up as he strolls into the endzone. A crazy bounce on the kickoff that forces ND to start from inside its own 10. A nonsensical jump ball to 5-foot-8 Jeremy Gallon (!) for a touchdown. An inexplicable "oops where's the ball" fumble by Tommy Rees just as Notre Dame is about to put the final nail in the coffin. The best play of Vincent Smith's career at the end of a game in which he and the rest of the running backs combined to rush for 10 yards (yes, 10).

And then came the kick to the groin. With a minute left, I'd have had hope for a comeback. With 30 seconds left and a passing offense that consisted primarily of things like jump balls to Jeremy Gallon, I didn't. Defeat had been accepted. Complaints about the offense had been mentally prepared. I didn't bother requesting more magic. Reality only allows so much.

Coming back from 17 down in the fourth quarter in a game in which you haven't had a drive longer than four plays (!!!) isn't realistic. Going 80 yards in 23 seconds isn't realistic. Going 4 for 14 through three quarters and then throwing for 215 yards and scoring four touchdowns in the fourth isn't realistic.

Denard completed 11 passes for 338 yards! He had 446 yards of total offense! There were six touchdowns and three turnovers in the last 17 minutes! Head asplode!

When ESPN came back to the GameDay crew a good 45 minutes after the game was over, there were still at least 50,000 people in the stadium -- none of them attempting to leave -- trying to either squeeze every last drop out of the mind-blowing atmosphere** or comprehend what they'd just seen on the field. My "wish I'd have been there level" went from a 10 out of 10 before the game to an infinity out of 10. By the end, I'd have been either lying across the bleachers in some sort of pleasure-overload coma or jumping around like a 5-year-old who's consumed an entire box of Pixi Stix laced with meth.

I don't know if Michigan is actually good. I don't know whether the abysmal and depressing shell of an offense we saw in the first three quarters is what we'll see going forward or simply a trial-and-error thing that will be discarded as Denard becomes the focal point and puts up another billion total yards this year. I don't know whether somebody in Notre Dame's secondary was abducted by a UFO or whether Jeremy Gallon became momentarily invisible. I don't know whether Michigan deserved to win or Notre Dame deserved to lose. None of those things matter today.

What I know is that this guy ...

... can do things outside my defined levels of realism and then laugh it off with a billion-watt smile and more humility than anybody I know. I love him.

*That game also (if I remember correctly) was the first with the "Greatest Games" feature that awards points from some sort of weird formula and then keeps track of your all-time best. Most exciting games would give you somewhere between 700 and 2,000 points. That Iowa game ended up with something like 5,539. We never played another game that hit even 3,500.

**Other thoughts about the night game/Desmond Howard ceremony/jersey patches will be saved for later. My brain = goo.


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