Boise's Thrilling Win A Landmark Moment
PASADENA, Calif. -- It takes something pretty special to leave a writer at a loss for words. But when Ian Johnson the crossed the goal line on his Fiesta Bowl-winning, Statue of Liberty handoff late Monday night, I stood in front of the television speechless for a good, long minute.
How do you sum up one of the most remarkable endings any of us will ever be fortunate enough to see? How do you sum up one of the most exciting bowl games ever contested?
And how do you sum up what will one day be viewed as one of the most significant moments in the history of college football?
I’m not exaggerating.
On paper, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was nothing more than a minor upset -- the No. 9 team beat the No. 7 team. In reality, it was so much more than that. Boise State beating Oklahoma in a New Year’s Day bowl game is college football’s equivalent to George Mason reaching the Final Four, with one extremely significant difference: George Mason had its chance to compete for the national title; Boise State does not. Like it or not, Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 just became the single biggest argument to date for a college football playoff.
You’re going to hear it a lot in the coming weeks. If Boise State can beat Oklahoma, why shouldn’t it get a shot at Ohio State? And while the BCS commissioners can offer any number of general arguments against a playoff, the fact is there is no reasonable answer to that specific question.
No, this was not the greatest of Oklahoma teams the Broncos beat -- but it was a pretty darn good one. Certainly a more worthy adversary than the Pittsburgh team Utah routed in a less memorable Fiesta Bowl two years earlier. Meanwhile, in the Rose Bowl, USC throttled a Michigan team that plenty of people deemed worthy of a national-title shot. The Trojans lost two games this season, one of them to Oregon State. Boise beat those guys 42-14.
I’m sure there will be plenty of people arguing this week that if Florida upsets Ohio State, the Broncos, as the nation’s lone remaining undefeated team, should be voted No. 1. I’m not ready to go that far, but anyone who watched Monday night’s thriller would have a hard time arguing that Boise State isn’t a legitimate, big-time team. We saw a physical Broncos defense bottle up former Heisman runner-up Adrian Peterson and pick off Sooners QB Paul Thompson three times. We saw the ultra-talented Johnson rush for 100 yards.
But the undisputed star of the Fiesta Bowl was a guy who spent the entire game on the sideline: Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Facing off against the nation’s winningest coach this decade, OU’s Bob Stoops, the Broncos’ first-year head coach exhibited some of the boldest, most creative play-calling ever seen in a major bowl game. To think, in the final 18 seconds of regulation and overtime alone, we saw a hook-and-ladder (Jerard Rabb’s game-tying, 50-yard touchdown to send the game to OT), a direct snap to a receiver (Vinny Perretta’s 5-yard touchdown pass in overtime) and the game-winning, soon-to-be-immortal Statue of Liberty two-point conversion in which QB Jared Zabransky faked a screen pass to the right, then handed off to Johnson on a run left.
And that wasn’t even the extent of the late-game drama. Oklahoma’s three two-point conversion attempts to tie. Zabransky’s near-fatal interception that Marcus Walker returned for a touchdown. And of course, Johnson’s nationally televised proposal to his cheerleader girlfriend afterward.
All of it combined to produce an indisputable, all-time classic. But like I said from the beginning, we saw more than just an exciting bowl game Monday night. We saw a potential landmark moment.
That Boise State was even in the Fiesta Bowl to begin with was only made possible just a couple years ago thanks to a major lobbying effort by the non-BCS schools. In the pre-BCS era, the Broncos would never even have merited consideration. Under the old, top-six requirement that was in effect through last season, the Broncos also would not have been chosen. Not only did they get in the game, they made a major statement on behalf of their mid-major brethren that none of us will soon forget.