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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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Monday, November 06, 2006

The Best Football Game Ever

As a member/alumnus of marching bands since 1983, I've been to a lot of football games. In fact, having just attended my fourth game in three weeks, I started adding it up: 36 high school games, 40 college games, 1 high school homecoming game (the year after I graduated), 15 college homecoming games since graduation, and 3 NFL games (including 2 in the last 3 weeks). That makes 95 football games that I've seen live. And this coming from a diehard baseball fan.

At any rate, given my rather extensive experience with live football, it should carry some amount of weight when I say that the Penn vs. Princeton game on 11/4/06 was the single most exciting football game I've ever seen. For those who missed it, here's a recap:

Some Context: The game was at Princeton, but was during their Fall Break (a 3-4 day weekend in the middle of the Fall Semester that most students use as an opportunity to go home and visit family, friends, etc.). So there weren't a lot of Princeton fans at the game. For Penn students, on the other hand, the game fell during an activity known as The Line, in which students participate in a 24 hour ritual that culminates in them being able to purchase season tickets for the upcoming Men's Basketball season. Since "The Line" included a trip to the Princeton football game this year, there were several hundred Penn students at the game (in addition to the "normal" crowd that bought tickets on their own). The point is: lots of very excited Penn students were at the game.

The First 3.5 Quarters: Ho hum. The Penn placekicker actually made a field goal, which is exciting only in the sense that he doesn't do that very often (Penn lost the previous two games in overtime, principally because the other team was able to kick a field goal in overtime, and Penn couldn't reciprocate from, well, anywhere on the field).

The Fourth Quarter: OK, here's where it gets really good. With roughly six minutes left in the game, Penn is down by 7 points, 24-17, and has the ball deep in their own territory. They complete a couple of long passes and make it to around mid-field. Excitement is building in the (let's just call it "well lubricated") crowd, as the potential to save the game becomes evident. On a running play around mid-field, Princeton makes an open-field tackle, strips the ball, and recovers the fumble. Dejection sets in amongst the crowd. But, alas, hope is not lost. Princeton goes 3 & out, and punts with roughly two minutes left to play. Penn once again has the ball deep in their own territory. The band plays some inspirational college fight songs. The team begins to move the ball. The crowd re-engages. With 49 seconds left in the game, Penn completes a long pass down to the Princeton 5-yard line. The crowd goes nuts! But wait! They're supposed to stop the clock while they move the first down markers and they haven't! By the time Penn lines up at scrimmage, the clock reads ~20 seconds! The players protest. The ref blows a whistle and has the time added back to the clock. The crowd goes nuts again! On the next play, Penn runs the ball into the endzone. Touchdown! Now for the extra point. Remember, as I discussed earlier, this is no foregone conclusion. But, in this case, luck prevails, and the kick is straight & long. Tie game! 24-24! Penn's third overtime in three weeks. The crowd, well, you know...

Overtime, Part 1: For those who don't know, college football has some very strange overtime rules. Rather than playing another 15 minutes, or playing until someone scores ("sudden death"), each team gets the ball at the opposing team's 35 yard line. If one team scores more than the other, they win. If they both fail to score, or they both score the same number of points (e.g., two field goals), then the two teams each get another shot. This continues until both teams have had equal opportunities from the 35, and someone has more points.

In this case, Penn got the first shot. Now, remember, Penn is sorely lacking in the kicking department, so a game of field goals is a distinct disadvantage. Starting from the 35-yard line, Penn makes a first down (to near the 20), but fails to make another one. On fourth down, still around the 20-yard line, the field goal unit comes out. The crowd is excited, but cautious. The center snaps the ball to the holder, who bobbles it, and can't get it down in time for the kick! He picks it up and starts running, tries several laterals, but in the end, Penn doesn't score. Dejection once again sets in among the crowd.

Now, it's Princeton's turn. From the 35, they also get a first down, and eventually work their way to a fourth down situation. Their field goal unit takes their place. If he puts in this (fairly short) field goal, Penn would lose their third straight overtime game, in precisely the same fashion (botched field goal vs. good field goal). The crowd is screaming "Block that kick! Block that kick!" The snap is good, the center holds, and OH MY GOD, THEY ACTUALLY BLOCKED THE KICK! WE'RE STILL IN THIS! HOLY S(%&^(T!!!.

Overtime, Part 2: This time, Princeton starts with the ball, again at the 35-yard line. The first play results in a 10-yard penalty against Princeton, putting them back to the 45. The second play is a passing play, but Penn sacks the quarterback, putting them past mid-field. The Penn crowd, still celebrating from the near-death experience of the blocked field goal, is in an alcohol/football induced frenzy. Princeton's next play is a long pass, caught on the Penn 2-yard line.

You could hear a pin drop.

So, first and goal from the two. Princeton tries three hand-offs up the middle, trying to jump over the defense for the touchdown, and fails three times. By the third time, the Penn crowd is screaming again. On fourth down, they decide to go for the touchdown, rather than kick a field goal. More screaming from the crowd. The ball is snapped, the hand-off is made, the runner jumps....and is hit by the defense at the line of scrimmage! No touchdown! The crowd screams! But wait - he landed on his feet after the collision and isn't down yet! He laterals to someone in the backfield (maybe the quarterback? I don't remember...), who runs around the entire pile, and scores easily. Now the (few) Princeton fans are celebrating, while the Penn crowd shouts obscenities at the referees for not whistling the play dead after the first hit. The refs ignore the fans, the Princeton kicker adds the extra point, and the score is Princeton 31, Penn 24.

Penn has one more shot, but the crowd is somewhere between fuming and gathering their stuff up to board the bus back to Philadelphia. Penn has the ball at the 35-yard line again. The first play from scrimmage is a 35-yard pass into the corner of the endzone, which the Penn receiver catches in full stride. Touchdown, Penn! OH MY GOD, WE'RE STILL IN THIS! HOLY S(%&^(T!!!.

Time once again for the extra point. The center snaps the ball, but this one hardly makes it to the holder on a fly. He doesn't even have time to try and place the ball. So, once again, he's up and running, this time to WIN the game, trying laterals when he runs out of room. Eventually, someone winds up with the ball and breaks around the sideline, headed for the endzone. The crowd, inexplicably, seems to be screaming and holding it's breath at the same time. The Princeton defense approaches and knocks the guy out of bounds at the 2-yard line. In a last, desperate attempt, the Penn player fumbles the ball forward, hoping one of his teammates will recover it in the endzone, but it too, goes out of bounds just before the goal line.

Game over. Final score: Princeton 31, Penn 30.

It was Penn's third overtime loss in three games, an NCAA record. ESPN's SportsCenter listed the end of the game as #1 on its "Top 10 Plays of the Day," quite an accomplishment for an Ivy League game.

As a band member and fan, I can't imagine it getting any more exciting than that (except, possibly, for my team actually winning the game). Maybe if I watch another 95 games...

posted by Brian at 2:53 PM


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