GLENDALE, Ariz. — Discard the old modifiers. Boise State is no longer mid-major. No longer an upstart. No longer Cinderella.
These Broncos are bonafide.
Boise State emptied its playbook and shocked the world, striking a blow for underdogs everywhere by knocking off tradition-rich Oklahoma 43-42 in Monday's Fiesta Bowl.
In one of the most exciting college football games ever played, the Broncos reached the summit of college football. And, in the process, checked off all the items on their to-do list: perfect season, a Bowl Championship Series bowl victory and, finally, the admirationand respect of the entire nation.
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"It puts Boise State on the map. There are no little guys at BSU," wide receiver Legedu Naanee said during the Broncos' euphoric celebration at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Broncos erased all doubts and debate about their standing in college football. Champions of the Western Athletic Conference, they proved they can go toe-to-toe with any team in the nation.
Bring on No. 1 Ohio State, the only other undefeated team in the nation.
"We deserve a shot atthe national championship,"quarterback Jared Zabransky said.And who can argue with them now?
Certainly not me.
Nor the legions of other prognosticators who picked the Sooners, convinced that their size and speed would win out in the end.
But Boise State has never listened to the skeptics before and it wasn't about to start on New Year's Day.
Instead, the Broncos — using every trick in their vast arsenal — found a way to topple the vaunted Sooners. In the final minute of regulation and in overtime, Boise State used a hook-and-lateral, a pass from a running back on fourth down and a Statue of Liberty play for a 2-point conversion to secure the victory.
Having almost given away a certain win, the Broncos then snatched victory back from the jaws of defeat.
"It might go down in college football as the best game — ever," said Zabransky, whose late-game interception gave the Sooners a 35-28 lead with 1:02 remaining.
It's hard to imagine a better — or wilder, wackier, crazier, more exciting or more unbelievable — finish.
And it led to some of the rawest human emotions.
Boise State's longtime athletic director Gene Bleymaier collapsed on the field after the game, falling to a knee for a moment of quiet reflection before darting across the field like a running back trying to elude tacklers — a la Jim Valvano, another ultimate underdog — looking for someone to hug.
It was that kind of moment.
One that sent grown men sailing into the arms of others.
One that turned the WAC defensive player of the year into a teary mush at midfield.
One that made an All-American tailback, having just scored the biggest points of his life, fall to a knee and propose to his girlfriend, the prettiest cheerleader, of course.
One that left the Big 12 champions with their jaws agape as they filed off the field in stunned silence.
One that will cause college football's powers-that-be to rethink their flawed system. One that doesn't always reward teams for what they do on the field, but for the tradition they have created.
Or, at least, let's hope it does.
"People will respect us now. We beat the Oklahoma Sooners," an exhausted Andrew Woodruff said. "We are the Boise State Broncos."
Yes they are.
And they're champions, too.
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