I turned down offers to watch the game with other people, and as the knot in my stomach tightened as I left basketball practice, it seemed like the right call. This whole season felt like a perfect game in baseball. Somewhere in the middle thoughts of wonderment and genuine greatness began to percolate in my mind, but I resisted giving them a voice for fear it would all fall apart as autumn gave way to winter. The last few weeks, I cheated and had a few discussion about just how perfect this season had been. It was probably the guilt that ate at me most in the restless hour before kick-off.
The first drive looked about right. A quick run, a third and 16 pass into field goal range, and three points followed. Then Auburn dropped a sure touchdown….good, the moment was too big for them.
Brent Musburger was already grating on my nerves as he has since 1988 when he caused me to spit on my TV during the Kansas/Oklahoma basketball final, and when FSU’s offense went into a five possession coma while Auburn amassed a 21-3 lead, I killed the sound and retired to a bedroom to watch the remainder of the unfolding debacle in dark silence.
Here, among a few other places, is where I diverge in thought from many. As a fan in a silent dark bedroom 3000 miles from the game, I could do nothing, but anguish in the tumultuous cess pool of my emotions. Generic cheering interspersed with themes of optimism and positivity, even prayer would have no impact on the game. From 21-3 on, it was down to the guys on the field who had given of themselves 18-22 years of blood, sweat and dreams to be on that field in that moment. It is that blood and sweat and those dreams that carried them there, and the lack thereof on my part that put me in the silent dark bedroom.
I was semi-conscious for the fake punt and mildly amused with the late touchdown to make it 21-10 at the half. The coach in me started talking….another score makes it a one possession game. The second half started better but was hardly the blitzkrieg befitting an epic comeback. After fifteen minutes of football it was 21-13.
I was swinging between optimism and a sense of semi-inevitable disappointment. PJ Williams picks Nick Marshall and Jameis throws a short touchdown to make it 21-19 with a chance to tie. Then an absolutely absurd unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Devonte Freeman, who was gesturing and apparently talking twenty yards from the nearest player or official. At that moment of a title game, even verbal threats of homicide absent proximity and action should be overlooked (see of course above where I differ from others). FSU kicks to make it 21-20, which my tortured mind takes as conclusive proof it’s not going to happen.
Auburn brings this point home with a field goal making it a four point game, but on the ensuing kick-off Kermit Whitfield races 100 yards for the lead. If I have one regret, it is that I did not have the sound on to hear the moment. That said, I was laying flat on my back deeply certain Auburn would score in the remaining 4:31, and the only question remaining was whether there would be overtime, or enough time to comeback.
Auburn scored, and FSU came back. Jameis Winston sloughed off a night of crap to find Rashad Greene for a big gain. From that moment until Winston hit Benjamin with thirteen seconds left my heart pounded violently in my chest. I felt and heard every beat. When Tre Mason was brought to the ground after a series of laterals, I got up and turned the sound on.
I spent the next 36 hours trying to process and reconcile what i saw and endured during the game. This was Florida State’s greatest team and Monday night their finest hour. Thank you as an alumni for your efforts, your faith and your accomplishments.