The following is what started as a short email to the Commissioner and a couple of regular Correspondents. It got a little long (you aren't surprised to hear that). The Commish encouraged me to follow up here. So I did.
I keep running across that video clip of the final play of the game. I watch it every single time. All the way to the part where Irv Smith, Jr. plows over that hapless cameraman. Just sitting there last night doing that again, it occurred to me why I’m fascinated with it.
This play was different. It went for long yards. It was definitively final. There was no video review, no one more possession for Georgia, no seconds to run off the clock, no need to kick the PAT, no kickoff to hold my breath through, no watching for agonizing seconds as the ball cleared the crossbar between the uprights, no defense on the field one more time, no victory formation. It was, well, not anything at all like an Alabama ending.
Looking back, I really did expect us to score on that drive, and probably a touchdown. Georgia was doubting. Their defense was tired. Our passing game had finally loosened things up for the running game. I just didn’t expect us to score like that. I was expecting a sequence more like a short pass on first down, a run wide on second down, hopefully resulting in third and short that we muscled to a first down between the 15 and the 10. From there I guess I was expecting a quarterback keeper, maybe a bootleg, with a run/pass option. Then maybe a solid Harris run to near the goal line garnering a first down. Then, maybe on second down, a massive push all across the offensive line with a running back carry that you really couldn’t see, signaled as a touchdown, and maybe an interminable wait for video review.
Instead, short of a turnover, about the worst possible thing that could happen did happen on first down. (To the credit of my imaginary overtime series, I do think that play call was a screen pass to Harris, but UGA spied him and when that wasn’t there the rush was so aggressive on the screen that it was a disaster). On second down, I couldn’t honestly tell you what I expected. More disaster, I guess. I was yelling at the TV, despite the fact that they never acknowledge me, for Tua to pass it to Damien. I could see him open and I really liked our chances with him against UGA’s dime package in the open field. He had run over their secondary before. We had blockers down field. It would have worked again. Tua was looking right at him. It seemed natural -- not a score, maybe not even a first down, but at least maybe third-and-reasonable with a more makeable field goal for poor Andy.
Instead IT happened. Tua looked back left. He already knew what he was going to see. On the replay you can see Smith give him a little hand signal before that snap and Tua give him a low thumbs up. No hesitation. No pump fake. He just threw it. I thought the trajectory was too flat -- overthrown. I’m badly conditioned. I expected to see the ball sail just past Smith’s fingertips. I expected to see it bouncing around the end zone. I could already hear a groan from the Alabama side and a collective sigh of relief from the Georgia side.
It took about three beats for me to process what had happened. The throw wasn’t too long. It didn't drop harmlessly into the end zone. The pass was dead perfect. Smith caught it so effortlessly and coolly that it looked like the lead photo in the chapter called “The Over the Shoulder Catch” in The Great Big Illustrated Handbook of How to Play Wide Receiver. There were no flags. He didn’t bobble it. He didn’t have to struggle to drag a foot in bounds. No one was around to try to swat it out of his hands. Just a young guy catching the ball and curling across the back of the end zone to hug his teammates. That was it. Nothing to review. Just like that. On second down. The play was over. The game was over. The season was over. The 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide football team would never play another down of football. It was all over. But the National Championship had been won. By a team that did not lead for a single second of the Championship game.
And that, I realized this week, was why I was and am so fascinated. That touchdown catch from so far away on the field in such an unexpected fashion and after so very much disappointment on the evening was so startling that I just couldn’t quite comprehend it in real time, even with a hoarse Chris Fowler yelling “touchdown”.
That probably explains why I’ve watched it probably at least 100 times. I think I’m still trying to process that he threw it, that he caught it, that we scored, and that we won. All of it. How many more times will I watch that play? I don’t know. Because I don’t know how long I’ll live. However, I can’t think of any set of circumstances where I would see the snap and not watch the catch. Ever.
Maybe that’s just me.
TO COMMENT ON THIS POST, PLEASE CLICK ON THE ABOVE LINK.