It was the second quarter. I was sitting, holding my breath, hands clasped, doing anything I could think of to will my team to victory through the television. Ryan Doerr was getting ready to punt it away. Again. I couldn't watch. The Cats were already down by 14. The unthinkable was happening.
I closed my eyes. I pinched myself. I said a quick prayer. When my eyes opened, Baylor was driving. I needed to leave.
I left the TV and went to change my shirt. I have two lucky shirts. I must have worn the wrong one. Donning the fresh shirt, I kneeled. Down on both knees on the carpet I began to pray. It was the second quarter and I had already gone through two stages of grief.
Denial. "No. This isn't happening. We can still do this. We're a second half team. Baylor's defense is terrible, right? Our defense can stop the air raid now, right? It's gonna be alright. Bill will find a way."
Anger. I won't quote this part but imagine if you will an eloquent, tongue-spinning tirade that effectively manages to lace all applicable curse words into one Kerouacian, punctuation free run-on sentence. That's how I remember it.
Now, as the first half came to a close, I was bargaining. On my knees. Hands clasped. I won't discuss in detail the conversation I had with God, but it involved some sacrifice on my part in exchange for a crystal football in Vanier.
I got up, brushed off and felt rejuvenated. I returned to the TV to find that K-State had scored 10 unanswered to end the half. There was new hope. I believed.
I didn't reach the depression stage until Lache Seastrunk blasted up the middle for 80 yards. Again, I left the TV. I went outside and sat in my car. Made some phone calls. Answered some texts I'd been ignoring. Then I sat in silence for a moment.
"This is all silly," I thought. "It hurts, but it's a game. You're being ridiculous."
It was over. The national championship dreams, and in all likelihood, Collin's Heisman hopes. All over.
I struggled with just what I was going to write. Over the years, I have developed some personal rules for writing. Many of them are circumstantially flexible, but one is not. Be positive. Sure, there will be negativity now and then, but the overall tone must be positive.
Fifty pass attempts? What the hell Bill? You're 73 years old. It's creepy when anyone over 40 has an identity crisis. Run the damn ball.
But I have to be positive.
One other rule I try not to break is to avoid cliché. It would be easy to write a thousand word fluff piece and end it with something like "But there's still one more game, still a chance at a conference title. And no matter how it ends, the sun will still rise in Manhattan next September."
But I knew I couldn't do that here. No one wants to read clichés right now. This is a time for originality. This is a time for a new take. I needed to study this game back to front and find something. Something good.
After watching the film twice, I realized I needed help. I needed a new perspective to find what I was looking for. I did some research. I scoured the depths of media history to find the appropriate method. Then it hit me. Political spin. Tapping my inner Karl Rove, I managed to come up with the following analysis:
Collin Klein threw two touchdown passes. He did not throw four interceptions. The offense scored 24 points. The defense did not give up 60 points. At times, they managed to make tackles. Five of those tackles were for loss. When the game was over, many people were happy. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm sure the local Waco economy experienced a significant boost in sales at many late night establishments.
OK, so I'll never be a campaign manager. Oh well. On my list of prospective careers in high school, campaign manager was right below Rodeo Clown and Night Court bailiff. Not a huge loss.
But I still need to be positive. It's my one unbreakable rule. My integrity is at stake. Without integrity, I might as well write sports for a massive media conglomerate run by a cartoon mouse. Or write for a site with a bunch of annoying pop-ups like it's 1996 or something.
We can't have that.
Maybe I can build it around the 16 goals. Those are positive. Let's see.
Commitment: They were committed to trying new things. Sure.
Unselfishness: They were very unselfish. With the ball.
Improve: Yeah this isn't working either.
I need to keep it simple. Be serious. Short and sweet.
Collin Klein fought hard. No, that's cliché. He gave it his all. Cliché.
He played to the whistle. Big cliché.
Damn, this is hard.
Perhaps the only true positive to come from the game is this. Phil Bennett deserved this. Anyone who denies that is an ass. The guy has been to hell and back and has had a rough season. I hate that it happened in this game, but I'm glad it happened. And I mean, there's still one more game, still a chance at a conference title. Right? And no matter how it ends, the sun will still rise in Manhattan next September.