They had played just 10 minutes of the real game, and then the waiting game stretched longer than an hour.
More than 100 Boise State football players and staff were packed Wednesday into the Cotton Bowl Stadium locker room experiencing something no one else had before in a bowl game.
The First Responder Bowl was canceled and declared a “no contest” after 9 minutes, 52 seconds of action and an 81-minute lightning delay, with Boston College leading 7-0.
It was not going to be further delayed, moved or made up.
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Worst outcome ever?
What could be more fitting, though, as the sponsor, Servpro, has the slogan: “Like it never even happened.”
“It was a difficult conversation,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, who delivered the bad news to his team. “They’re looking at me, I’m like, ‘Help me out, guys, because this is a new one.’ ”
In fact, it was a new one — for college football in its entire history, no FBS bowl game had been called because of weather. According to NCAA records, only two previous postseason games were canceled, a 1941 charity game between Hawaii and San Jose State because of the Pearl Harbor attack, and the 2013 Heart of Texas Bowl, which was to be played between two Division II squads.
Senior quarterback Brett Rypien’s impressive career came to an end, along with those of the team’s other seniors, some of whom will never play football again. Rypien said there was initial frustration, but most Broncos realized the situation, especially with more bad weather coming.
After the initial 30-minute wait, he said players were checking their phones for the latest forecasts. Harsin said there were a lot of “long faces” when he gathered them to make the announcement.
“I don’t think guys were mad, it was just sad, like a ‘WTF.’ We wanted to know why,” Rypien said. “It sucks, there’s no other way to put it. I certainly didn’t want my career to end like this.”
Rypien said that in August, Harsin and his staff stopped a practice halfway through and had the team immediately run into the locker room to prepare them for such a situation. But that’s to prepare for a delay — a cancellation wasn’t in the realm of possibility.
Soon after the game was called, Boise State sophomore STUD end Curtis Weaver ran onto the field and pushed his jersey into the grass a bit to make it look a little more game-worn.
One lightning strike hit very close to the stadium about an hour after the game was called as the final few players hurried onto the team buses. Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey pointed up to the sky afterward and said “good idea.”
“We were concerned about the players’ safety, not just from the weather, but the warmup, the cool down, playing and not playing, and waiting in the locker room,” Apsey said. “It was pretty clear at the end of the day the decision that needed to be made.”
But for players’ families, some who made the trek down to Texas for Christmas, it was a tough pill to swallow. Behind a barricade as the rain began to fall, they stood waiting for their favorite Broncos to exit the locker room, to give a hug or a shrug over such a weird day.
“I feel bad for the seniors that didn’t get to play and finish the season,” said Shawna Cleveland, the mother of sophomore offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland. “... We put a pretty penny down to come here, but we know he’ll be back next season, those seniors won’t.”
In the aftermath, the stunning and sudden end of both seasons, it was easy to forget that some football was played.
Both teams had the ball twice, and Boston College had a 7-0 lead on a 19-yard AJ Dillon touchdown run on the Eagles’ first drive. But that was it — 25 total plays, 129 yards and seven points in 9:52 of time.
“Deeply disappointed,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. “Tough decisions have to be made and they have to be made in the big picture of things, and the most important big picture here is player welfare, player safety. ... I completely respect the decision that was made here, as hard as it was for everybody.”
No one came out of Wednesday feeling good. No one won, some were upset, many just trying to process the rarity of what happened.
But both teams did the same thing, according to their coaches, a little bit of a normalcy to cap off one of the weirdest bowl days ever.
“We sang the fight song to finish the right way,” Harsin said.