The numbers don’t tell the story of the moment when a life changed.
In most of the country, the grand finale of an epic college football Friday was reduced to a score heard sometime Saturday: Nevada 34, Boise State 31.
In Idaho, Nevada, and any place that caught the dramatic endgame of the WAC matchup in Reno, it was a riveting drama.
For one young man, it will resonate forever.
Kyle Brotzman was a redshirted freshman walk-on at Boise State when the Broncos put themselves on the national map at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, shocking Oklahoma, 43-42. Over the last four seasons, he has kicked 230 extra points and 65 field goals for a total of 425 points, second-most for a kicker in Division I history. He needs nine more points to become the all-time leader.
He’ll still be haunted by the three that got away. Twice.
With two minutes left in the third quarter, Boise State led by 24-7. Five drives later, the score was tied at 24; there were five minutes to go in the fourth, and everything was about to get surreal.
Titus Young returned the kickoff to the Boise 21. On first and ten, Kellen Moore threw a screen pass to Doug Martin, who took it 79 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Nevada got the ball back on its own 21 with 4:53 to play. Senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick led a methodical, 14-play march, converting two third downs, completing four of seven passes, eating up nearly all of the clock and closing with a seven-yard throw to Rishard Matthews for the touchdown. The extra point tied the game.
The Wolf Pack kicked a bouncer fielded by Titus Young at his fifteen and returned to the Boise 37 with nine seconds to play. Moore went back to pass, and somehow Young blew by the coverage as the quarterback let fly. Young dove, gathered the ball in his forearms, pulled it in, cradled it as he hit the ground at the Nevada 9, rolled, and came up showing the ball and signaling for a timeout.
It was a Flutie-to-Phalen moment for Moore and Young, the capper to an extraordinary season that saw the Broncos on the verge of playing in the Rose Bowl or for the national championship.
The catch was reviewed by the replay officials, giving the senior kicker plenty of time to think about the upcoming 26-yard field goal attempt. Thanks to Boise’s usually high-powered offense, this would be the first time he had faced a potential last-play game-winner.
Brotzman pushed the kick to the right. The ball sailed over and past the right upright, and the refs signaled no-good.
It was just his fourth miss in 18 attempts on the season, his second in 25 tries from inside the 30 in his career.
The score was still tied. Boise State would get the ball first in overtime.
Nevada’s rush forced an incompletion and a dump-off on the first two plays. On third-and-9, Moore hit Jeremy Avery for sixteen yards to the Nevada 8. The Pack defense held, and on fourth-and-goal, Brotzman readied himself for a 29-yard attempt from the dead center of the field.
Perhaps overcompensating, he hooked this one to the left. No good.
Four plays later, Anthony Martinez nailed a 34-yarder to end the game and Boise’s BCS dreams.
In the aftermath, Broncos coach Chris Petersen said, “We told ‘em that one play can never lose the game. One play can win a game, but it can’t lose it. There were a lot of chances for us to make plays.”
“We love him to death,” Kellen Moore said after the game. “He’s one of our boys, he’s made big kicks in the past… One play doesn’t define this game, there were other opportunities that we had.”
On Facebook, more than seventy groups quickly formed that included the kicker’s name, often yoked to some obscene or snide comment. But the most popular group, by far, was the one labeled “The Bronco Nation Loves Kyle Brotzman,” with over 13,000 “Likes” by mid-day Sunday. Many cited his play in last season’s Fiesta Bowl against TCU, when his 29-yard pass out of punt formation on fourth-and-9 kept alive the drive for the winning touchdown.
I doubt that’s much consolation.
Consider the words of Mike Black [LINK: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2010/11/28/1434957/brian-murphy-pain-of-missed-fg.html], reported by Brian Murphy in Sunday’s Idaho Statesman. Twenty years ago, Black was the Boise State kicker in a Division I-AA semifinal against Nevada in Reno. The Broncos held Nevada scoreless in their first overtime possession, then brought on Black for a 37-yard attempt that went wide right.
“Didn’t even have a chance,” recalled Black, who subsequently played ten seasons in the Arena Football League. “I can honestly say it’s one of the worst days of my life. That’s the one kick that stands out, no doubt about it. It’s hard to get it out of your mind. It’s going to be with you the rest of your life.”
While that kick was for a chance at a national championship, the implications for Boise State of this miss might have been greater. Gaining national credibility has been a multi-year process for the Broncos. It started with the 2002 team that reached the top 25 for the first time in school history; continued with the 13-0 ’06 season and Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma; built through another unbeaten season and Fiesta Bowl win in ’09; and continued through ten straight wins in 2010. A place in the national championship game loomed if the Broncos won out and Auburn or Oregon faltered.
At 11-0, with one game left against 4-7 Utah State, BSU could have looked forward to a $17 million payout from the Rose Bowl or the BCS Championship Game. Now, 10-1, the Broncos may wind up in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on January 9, with its $800,000 payout.
The power conferences take the big money for granted; the game is perpetually tilted in their direction, and their budgets reflect the expected windfalls. For the Boise States, it takes years of perfection just to enter the conversation, to build the groundswell of attention that might give them a chance.
The weight of those hopes and demands landed on a young man’s right foot on Friday.
Broncos fans will have the opportunity to cheer him and wish him well on Senior Day this Saturday. Judging from the comments left on even the nastiest of the Facebook pages, that’s just what they intend to do.
He’ll have enough trouble dealing with his own disappointment as his life goes forward. Shame on those who think he should have to deal with theirs as well.