King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Boise State's amazing Fiesta Bowl win: Exhibition game of the century!

By Salon Staff
Published January 2, 2007 5:00PM (EST)

If only there had been some way for one of the greatest college football games in history to mean something beyond thrills for two schools' fan bases and momentary entertainment for those among the rest of us able to stretch our hangovers deep enough into New Year's Night to tune in.

Trying to think of one.

Boise State's incredible 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma featured three touchdowns in the final 86 seconds of regulation, a hook-and-ladder play for the tying score by Boise State on fourth-and-18 with 18 seconds to go, a direct-snap wide receiver pass for a touchdown in overtime by the Broncos -- also on fourth down, because, you know, when else? -- and the winning two-point conversion coming on a Statue of Liberty play.

Boise State did everything but line up Harpo in the backfield. For those of you wondering what a hook-and-ladder or Statue of Liberty play might be, please consult your "Collegiate Foot Ball Fanatic's Handbook," 1926 edition, which has some nice illustrations.

Did I mention yet that star Boise State running back Ian Johnson, who scored the winning points, celebrated by running over to his girlfriend, a Broncos cheerleader, and proposing? She said yes.

Or maybe she said, "23 skidoo." Or maybe she turned into a flying lizard and soared back to Idaho to have midnight tea with the Sundance Kid. Statue of Liberty play? I'm not the only one who saw all this, right?

It really was a hell of an exhibition game, that Fiesta Bowl, much better than that other scrimmage in Pasadena, the Rose Bowl. In that one, USC dominated Michigan in the second half on the way to a 32-18 win in what we can call the national championship consolation game. Sort of a third-place game.

In a two-team tournament.

If we ignore that Boise State is one of two undefeated Division 1-A teams in the nation, that is, one of one that isn't playing in the National Championship Game, the only game that means anything, the one that turns what used to be New Year's Day bowls with their own gravity and meaning into consolation exhibitions, nice little paydays for everybody but the players, nice little road trips for some of the fans, diverting TV shows for some of the rest of us.

There were those who had argued that Michigan deserved to go to that game, which will be played in the same Phoenix-area stadium that hosted the Fiesta Bowl next Monday, because the Wolverines looked like the second-best team in the nation after losing to No. 1 Ohio State 42-39 on the road in November.

Any argument that USC deserved a shot at the national title was blown up when the Trojans lost their regular-season finale to UCLA. You can't lose your last regular-season game and still go to the Championship Game, except under very specific circumstances spelled out on Pages 347-966, inclusive, of the top-secret BCS rule book, "Making It Up as We Go Along."

So Michigan, the team a lot of people thought was the clear No. 2 and should have been in the title game, got smoked by USC, a team that clearly had no business in the title game. So much for the argument that Michigan should have played for the championship.

And Boise State beat Oklahoma, a legitimate BCS team, owner of only one legitimate loss, and even with that other one, the result of a hideously blown call, still ranked ahead of Boise State in every poll except the BCS.

But Boise State plays in the Western Athletic Conference and racked up its undefeated record against the likes of Sacramento State and Louisiana Tech, so it has no business in the title game because it would get blown away against such clearly superior competition, and please ignore the Fiesta Bowl.

And Florida gets to play Ohio State for the championship, thanks to its own fine season but really thanks to the efforts of UCLA.

UCLA went 7-6 and had more of a say in who plays for the championship than Boise State, which went 13-0. That makes sense, in a cheerleader turns into a flying lizard sort of way.

Gosh, if there were only some way to get all these teams together in a contest of some kind, to sort out all the teams with plausible claims to playing for the title. Ohio State and Florida, sure, but also USC and Michigan, and Boise State. And let's not forget Oklahoma, and the four teams playing in the exhibition games Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Louisville, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and LSU -- mostly because we'd need an even number of teams. Forgetting any three of those last five would be OK by me.

Boise State and its fans will always have Glendale. They'll always have that incredible game, where it may have taken a hook and ladder and a Statue of Liberty play and a wide receiver pass and two cheerleaders turning into aerial reptiles, but the Broncos showed they can play with the big-conference powers.

They'll always have a night on which quarterback Jared Zabransky could sit in the postgame press conference and call the win the greatest college football game in history and not get laughed off the dais.

Too bad it was all just a scrimmage, about as meaningful as that humdinger of a spring training game I once watched not far from the site of Boise State's triumph.

Hey! I just had an idea. Maybe there should be a tournament with the top, oh, eight teams. The championship could then be decided on the field, and I don't mean on a field 3,000 miles away by a team with six losses. And crazy upsets like Boise State's could become an annual national obsession, kind of like in basketball, where that sort of thing happens. Oh, folks, this is a terrific idea!

I'm not the only one seeing this, right?

Previous column: The Year in Sports

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