Wed Nov 11 01:26pm EST
Once again we're gobsmacked by the routine passage of time: Ten years have passed like that, and to commemorate the artificially grouped events therein, the Doc Sat team is counting down the best of 2000-09. Today's category: Best play.
• Matt Hinton: Leinart to Jarrett (Oct. 15, 2005)
I'm in the unusual position of selecting a play I didn't actually see as it unfolded, only heard -- in fact, my entire sense of the drama of Matt Leinart's last gasp, fourth-and-9 completion to Dwayne Jarrett at Notre Dame in 2005 comes from where I heard the play unfold: In a press box at an obscure Conference USA stadium, where more than a dozen veteran beat writers were blatantly ignoring the highest-scoring first half in Southern Miss history to catch a glimpse of mighty, invincible USC's final drive in South Bend on a TV at the back of the box.
The No. 1 Trojans trailed 31-28 and faced a desperate fourth down to save their 27-game win streak following a second-down sack and a short dump pass to Reggie Bush on third down. There is a staunch "no cheering" policy in every press box; reporters are practiced experts at stifling emotion. But none of the paunchy, cynical scribes lingering around the set bothered to conceal their gasps, groans and general shrieks of amazement at this:
That set up the infamous "Bush Push" touchdown on the final snap that eventually propelled SC into the ill-fated championship showdown with Texas in the Rose Bowl, but the bomb to Jarrett is more memorable for the sheer guts of it. Aside from being an audible from Leinart, and from Jarrett reportedly suffering from double vision in one of his eyes, the deep call was as classic a case of one-on-one, "our guy will beat your guy" swagger as you'll ever see with so much riding on one play.
Honorable Mention: Pretty much any catch by Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Braylon Edwards, especially Johnson's whirling, one-handed grab against N.C. State as a true freshman and Edwards' game-winning leap against Michigan State in 2004; Mike Williams' glue-handed snag against Oregon State in 2003; and Darren McFadden splitting LSU's safeties with a ridiculous burst of speed in 2006.
• Holly Anderson: Tyrone Prothro's Catch (Sept. 10, 2005)
For college football fans, "The Catch" has nothing to do with Joe Montana. With Alabama trailing Southern Miss 21-10 after three unanswered USM touchdowns, the Bryant-Denny crowd was getting restless with 'Bama facing fourth-and-forever just before what promised to be a very sober halftime. Under pressure, Brodie Croyle had to heave up a blind prayer to Tyrone Prothro, who was just as blind on the other end with safety Jasper Faulk in his face. Not that he was going to let that stop him:
Mouths dropped across America; officials reversed their initial call of incomplete and spotted the ball at the 1 for an easy Tide touchdown. 'Bama would dominate the second half and win, 30-21. Prothro would win an ESPY for his end zone heroics. And three games later, his playing career would end forever after sustaining a gruesome leg injury against Florida that's become as infamous as the catch is celebrated.
Honorable mention: In honor of one of our favorite things, Fat Guy Touchdowns, see Troy's Junior Louissant rumbling 60 yards against Missouri in 2004, Kentucky's Myron Pryor's "310 pounds of glory" run against Louisville in 2008 and Iowa's Adrian Clayborn busting through and taking it to the house to lift the Hawkeyes over Penn State earlier this year.
• Doug Gillett: The Mississippi Miracle (Oct. 27, 2007)
During a 2007 season marked by wild upsets that saw top-five teams crumbling on almost a weekly basis, the most amazing play of the decade (and maybe ever) was pulled off on a tiny football field in Jackson, Miss., at a Division III game hardly anyone saw -- until the winning touchdown made the YouTube rounds, of course, and then every highlight show in the country. Millsaps College is up 24-22 at home, and conference rival Trinity (Texas) has the ball at its own 40 with two seconds left to make something happen:
Didja get all that? For the record, the "Mississippi Miracle" lasted 62 seconds, involved 15 laterals tossed by seven different players, and -- as more than a few people pointed out -- didn't incur a single flag. As far as anyone knows, it was the longest play (in terms of time elapsed) in college football history. I don't think I've ever seen a more heroic example of a team staying focused and sticking with a play to the bitter end. Just for good measure, Trinity went on to win the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title -- and this play beat out everything that happened in I-A that year to earn ESPN's "Game-Changing Performance of the Year." As well it should have.
• Chris Brown: The Bluegrass Miracle (Nov. 9, 2002)
Kentucky doesn't have too many notches on its belt from wins against top SEC teams, so when it looks like they're gonna get one, the natives get very excited. So it was on Nov. 9, 2002, as the hometeam Wildcats had snagged a 24-21 lead off a field goal. A Kentucky player called timeout before the field goal, saving 11 seconds on the clock, but no matter: LSU began its drive on its own 9-yard-line. Quarterback Marcus Randall completed a pass to Michael Clayton to get the ball to LSU's own 26-yard-line; only two seconds remained between Kentucky and its biggest SEC upset in years. Yet what unfolded instead was straight out of a Wed Anderson montage (or Wes Craven, if you're a Kentucky fan):
In all its folly, excitement, randomness and cruelty, this is sports: Kentucky coach Guy Morriss getting the Gatorade bath before the final play; LSU quarterback Marcus Randall buying time and heaving it as far as he could; the ball cruelly and seemingly purposefully skirting off no fewer than four players' fingers, into the waiting arms of Devery Henderson; Henderson not only catching the ball, but doing so in full stride, between two defenders, allowing him to turn on the afterburners and stride into the end zone; Kentucky fans storming the field and dangling from the goal posts in the opposite end of the field. (My personal favorite is the student in the GQ look jeans plus blazer, non-tucked in shirt, and tie, who storms the field in glee and until it becomes painfully evident that his team has lost.) It's one of the most amazing plays of any decade, because all of college football is in it.