Tramel: College football was the real winner of the Fiesta Bowl

The OklahomanJanuary 2, 2007 

After a breathless string of magic and miracles, after two football teams so very different in tradition and prestige but not so much in talent and heart waged a game to remember, after Oklahoma and Boise State produced the Fiesta of all Fiestas in the desert, we finally had a winner Monday night.

Boise State.

Boise State and college football.

The little Broncos, kept on the outside of this tradition-rich sport until this amazing night at University of Phoenix Stadium, bested the Sooners 43-42 in overtime in the wildest game you ever will hope to see.

Boise State hero Jared Zabransky called it maybe the greatest game in college football history. That's silly, of course, but I'm taking nominations for any games wilder.

Boise State won it in a manner that maybe only Oklahomans can appreciate. The Broncos were victimized by Sooner Magic, as Ohio State and Nebraska and so many others had been so many times before. But Boise State saw that magic and trumped it with a miracle of its own, a 50-yard touchdown play with seven seconds left on the old hook-and-lateral.

Remember that, OU fans? What's good for the goose in 1976 against Nebraska is good to cook a goose 30 years later.

Then in overtime, more tricks. A two-point conversion play that was part Statue of Liberty and part hidden-ball trick and all guile by rookie Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who wasn't afraid to lose and was rewarded with victory.

And never again will college football look at the little guy the same. Never again can an unbeaten Boise State or TCU or Brigham Young be written off for weak schedules. All they ask for is a chance.

That chance came to Boise State, and the Broncos made the most of it by slaying the Big 12 champion.

"We felt like we belonged here all along," Petersen said. "We really did. I think a lot of people felt we belonged here. That's why you play the game. You've got to go out there and prove it."

George Mason University last week took out a full-page ad in the Idaho Statesman, congratulating Boise State and wishing the Broncos well in the Fiesta Bowl. George Mason rocked college basketball last spring by making the Final Four.

Boise State trumped George Mason with this victory. Some questioned whether the Broncos deserved a BCS bid. But they proved it in spades Monday night against an OU team that played poorly much of the game but with great heart late.

Despite the way the Sooners played, this was not a game they lost. This was a game Boise State won.

This is a game that will gnaw at Bob Stoops, giving up such an easy score with the game seemingly in hand. And Stoops will be right; a defense should never be so victimized.

But the 50-yard hook-and-lateral — quarterback Jared Zabransky to Drisan James to Jerard Rabb — was a play for the ages. It was a play so big, it made you almost forget the epic finish by the Sooners.

The 77-yard touchdown drive directed by Paul Thompson and 2-point conversion pass. Marcus Walker's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:02 left, which but for Boise State's charm is a play that would rank among the greatest in Sooner lore.

Truth is, OU didn't lose this game with its defensive lapses against Petersen's bag of tricks. The Sooners lost this one with 55 minutes of lethargic play.

OU looked in this bowl game just like it did the previous two BCS trips, losses to LSU in the Sugar and Southern Cal in the Orange. The Sooners seemed out of it. Mistakes galore, uninspired play.

But OU's finish made this a memorable Fiesta and at least gives the Sooners something to build upon. Down at Miami two years ago, OU quit early. This game could have been equally embarrassing, getting blown out by Boise State, but the Sooners not only didn't quit, they pulled back ahead.

Truth is, this was the wildest OU game in memory. Nothing really compares. Not Ohio State 1977. Not Bedlam 1983. Not any game.

Near the end, Glendale police trotted out officers on horseback to line the field. What in the world for? Who had energy left to rush the field or celebrate or do anything but marvel at what a wondrous game this was?

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