So, here's the thing: I usually start writing these recaps midway through the fourth quarter. That's when the narrative starts forming, when you generally have a good idea of who's going to win and how they'll have done it, and you kind of cross your fingers and hope that the eight-hundred words you've already written aren't rendered moot by the last few minutes, even, an annoying little bit, when it's Penn State trailing, Penn State needing the miracle. Because, damnit, you put in hard work, and you nestled some great little rhetorical flourishes within that game recap, and those words deserve to be read by someone, right?
I've never been so happy to hit "ctrl+a", then "delete".
I'm writing this now as Brendan Gibbons's field goal falls short short of the crossbar, as Penn State kneels the ball to head into overtime. My heart is beating as fast as it has since I tried jogging that one time. I'm a fan of the Mets, and the Jets, and the Islanders, and the Knicks, and of course, these Penn State Nittany Lions, teams either famously snakebit or stuck in decades of futility, more likely to buttfumble than even challenge for competitive relevancy, more known for their collapses than celebrated for their successes. I have been so beat down by so many painful losses, so many soul-crushing defeats, that I have no idea how to react when it's my team making the incredible plays, my team snatching potential victory from the jaws of defeat. We may end up losing this game, but right now, as I try and organize my thoughts into a somewhat readable stream-of-consciousness, I couldn't even care, because those last four plays that took us from Painful Loss to Instant Classic rewarded me, and assuredly you all, too, in a way sports almost never have. Isn't this why we watch? Isn't this why they play? Isn't this the point?
Sam Ficken just missed a field goal. For all his growth this season, for how far he's come, maybe this will be his legacy. Sam Ficken who had his chances to be the hero but ended up the goat. And yet, of course not. Of course this would be the time that a crowd of 107,000 chanting "BLOCK THAT KICK, BLOCK THAT KICK" turns out to be prophetic. Because tonight, if nothing else, has been about the power of fanhood, so even if it weren't the students and the alumni, who, on homecoming, are at the least reminded of and more likely channeling their days as students, who affected Brendan Gibbons, let's all agree to pretend it was.
Of course, the hat trick wouldn't be completed; Brendan Gibbons just opened up the second overtime with a field goal and now, the pressure is back on Hack and, eventually, maybe, on Sam Ficken once again. But 25 yards, an unlimited amount of time, and needing just 3 is easy compared to the magic they pulled off to close regulation, isn't it? Spoiler alert: It is, and to a third overtime we go. In the third overtime, you have to go for two after a touchdown (not that either team has gotten the ball into the end zone in the extra periods yet), but maybe Bill O'Brien should have done that at the end of regulation. Then, win or lose, there wouldn't have been a third OT for Allen Robinson to fumble it, to give Michigan the ball with an absence of pressure, to once again stop the hearts and hang the heads of not just the hundred-thousand plus inside Beaver Stadium, but the millions watching on TV--not just the Penn State fans, but every fan, it seems, every fan who might not have been rooting for the Lions, but who wanted something more climactic, more exciting, less devastating to one of the fanbases who'd already been put through the emotional ringer through almost four hours of ugly, mistake-filled, transcendent, beautiful football. And so, of course, it had to be that way, because every action must have a reaction, every sublime moment deserves its sad, tragic counterpart. And so Brendan Gibbons kicked the field goal, and so Michigan won, and so it went, but not one of us can complain.
It was worth it.
And yet, it wasn't. And yet, the football gods had a greater plan for this game. It couldn't end with a short field goal from the middle of the field. It couldn't end so predictably, so straightforwardly, so without lack of a twist. And so we play on, and so we play indefinitely, and so we await an ending that this game, for all its terrible splendor, will have deserved. There's a song we Jews sing every Passover. It celebrates how far we've come since we were slaves in Egypt, how, no matter how far we still have to go, we never have any right to complain. "Dayenu," we sing, it would have been enough. We've long since passed that threshold. Overtime football is free football, we're four of them deep, and even if Penn State can't match Brendan Gibbons, dayenu. Even if Bill Belton is stopped on fourth down, dayenu. Who needs a fifth overtime, anyway? We've come this far. Dayenu.
But he wasn't, and so this game went on, long enough for Allen Robinson to drop a would-be game winner, but long enough for Michigan to give Penn State the game on a silver platter, long enough for Bill Belton to run it in and for Beaver Stadium to explode and us all to scream and shout and jump up and pump our firsts in the air, to startle and scare our roommates and our wives and our friends and whoever else was unfortunate enough to stand near a Nittany Lion in heat.
And that, my friends, is what this whole college football thing is all about.