The game was over. The journey was complete. It was a done deal. The Miami Hurricanes had just captured their sixth national championship in school history, and had gone back-to-back. The newest dynasty in college football was alive and well.
Wait, is that.......IS THAT A PENALTY FLAG?
You know the story, and I hope you can feel the pain that I'm suffering while I write this, but sometimes as sports fans, it helps to look back on painful memories. Right?
As a sports fan, there’s always one loss from your teams, that hurt in such a crushing way, that you still think about to this day. For me, it was the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which just so happened to be the first football game I can truly remember watching.
I was 8 years old, and my father blew off a watch party with his friends, to watch our Canes win another title. He wanted his son’s first football experience as a fan to be our team win a championship. Can’t script a better story than that.
For some reason, the first thing from that game that I'll never forget, Miami running back Jason Geathers did a full backflip. It was amazing. Anywho, let’s move on.
Ohio State came in undefeated, but come on, they have no shot. Their offense had nobody except running back Maurice Clarett. But who cares? Where even is Ohio? We had Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, D.J. Williams all on the same defense! We had won 34 straight games, at that point in my life, I didn’t know anything but Miami winning.
Then the game starts. Wait, why is Ken Dorsey constantly under pressure? Big first down to Andre Johnson, there we go! Then Dorsey gets sacked again? Strange.
Fast forward, big completion to Kellen Winslow Jr. and then boom, touchdown pass to Roscoe Parrish. 7-0 Canes. Cancel the game, prepare the champagne. This one is over.
Sean Taylor picks off Craig Krenzel the very next possession. Everything is going according to plan. Let’s blow these Buckeyes out. It’s repeat time in Miami.
Fast forward to the second quarter, and Dorsey is intercepted by Dustin Cox. I turned to my father, true story, and said, “Dad, what’s wrong with Ken tonight?” He didn’t answer, just shrugged his shoulders in confusion.
But the Miami defense wasn’t giving Ohio State anything, nothing, suffocating. Canes get the ball back......DORSEY THREW ANOTHER INTERCEPTION? Few plays later, touchdown Buckeyes. Tied, 7-7.
This is fine, we’re fine. That entire 2002 season, we always struggled in the first half.
Next possession, Dorsey is sacked and fumbles the ball. Ohio State recovers, and two plays later, they’re up 14-7. Miami trailing at halftime.
My father is pacing around the kitchen, talking to himself about Ken Dorsey, screaming at the offensive line, who are 2,344 miles away in Arizona. Why is he yelling? Is this how it is being a sports fan?
Second half starts, and we need a big play from our defense, and there it is! Sean Taylor intercepts a pass in the end zone, his second of the night, he’s running.....and Clarett strips the ball from him. Buckeyes somehow have the ball back. Field goal is good. 17-7. Also, that's when I realized, this Sean Taylor guy, he’s pretty good at football.
Dorsey marches us down the field, and Willis McGahee, my favorite player, rushes it in for a touchdown. Just like that, we’re back in it. 17-14. It’s like our entire household had a shot of B12 at that moment. We were back. We’re going to win this game.
Early fourth quarter, we get the ball back. Touchdown right here, c’mon Dorsey. And then, for the first time in my life, I really saw the reality of football. McGahee catches a screen pass, and goes down. I saw my father shed actual tears watching Willis down on the ground, and it was a moment that, still to this day, makes me instantly sad. #2 was like Superman to me.
Somehow, the game is still going on.
Fast forward, Roscoe Parrish is off to the races, but fumbles. We’re actually going to lose, aren’t we?
But just like that scene in Dumb and Dumber, he redeems himself! Parrish takes a punt, returns it 50 yards, and there’s life. Field goal by Todd Silvers, and we have overtime.
I remember my father explaining the rules of overtime to me, he was talking so fast he sounded like a stock broker on Wall Street.
Miami has the ball first, and the offense delivered. Dorsey hits Winslow in the back of the end zone, and suddenly, the Hurricanes are up 24-17. Oh my goodness, we’re going to win!
Buckeyes have the ball at the 5-yard line, and it’s 4th-and-3. This is it. Last chance.
Since I already mentioned “the incident” at the beginning of this, I’ll skip over most of it.
He didn't catch it! My father hugged me, told me he loved me, his cheers could’ve been heard from Sun Devil Stadium.
It was something out of a sports fan fairytale. My team just won the championship. Being a sports fan is easy!
But wait. I’m so confused, I have no idea what’s going on. I thought we won?
Some referee, named Terry Porter, threw a flag.
“Pass interference, on the defense. Automatic first down.”
I can’t say on here what my fathers reaction was to the flag, but all hell was breaking loose. All of a sudden, in an instant, Krenzel scores, and we’re going to a second overtime. Somehow, this game is still going on.
Buckeyes score the next drive. Miami is now losing again, 31-24. This isn’t a joke, this is our last chance. This is Dorsey, my childhood hero, he’ll do something, he can do anything. We can still win. We will still win.
It’s 4th down, and I can still see it today, as clear as could be, a swarm of Buckeye defenders, must’ve been 450 of them, surround Dorsey, and.......
It’s over. Miami lost. For the first time in my life as a sports fan, I'm witnessing my Hurricanes lose. For some reason, for which I will never understand, it was the Buckeyes holding the trophy that night, not Miami. Craig Krenzel just won a national championship, and Ken Dorsey just lost. I can still see Dorsey on his knees, wearing the green jersey and white long sleeves, looking completely devastated. My hero, #11, the quarterback who seemed invincible, his team had lost.
I can still see Jonathan Vilma, one of the best linebackers in Miami history, tears in his eyes as he walked off the field. Season over. Dynasty, though we may not have known at the time, was also over.
My father didn’t say anything for several minutes, just staring in disbelief, too shocked, stunned, upset, furious, confused, to say anything.
Finally, he says, “Son, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s sports.”
I was crying, uncontrollably sobbing. My father carried me to my room, told me I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow if I didn’t want to, but even that didn’t cheer me up. First time in my life, I felt actual sadness from sports, a feeling I've grown very accustomed to. Throughout the next 17 years, whenever my father and I would talk about that game, he’d apologize.
That was my introduction to being a sports fan, and yes, I think about that game every other day. There have been other Miami losses that might've pissed me off more at the moment, but there’s only game that has continually stuck with me, and it was that Fiesta Bowl.