The drama was so intense that it seemed it might be too much for a body to bear. Indeed, there were many in the crowd who buried their heads in their hands, unable to watch.
So it was at the Nebraska-Colorado football game here last weekend. Nebraska, third-ranked in the country, needed not only a win but a win of titanic proportions in order to have a chance of easing into the No. 2 ranking occupied by Virginia Tech. If that should happen, the Cornhuskers would play Florida State for the national championship. With this as a goal, it was unfortunate for Nebraska it was facing Colorado, a team that underperformed all season.
Everything was going perfectly predictably and Nebraska had an insurmountable 27-3 lead going into the fourth quarter. And then it started raining miracles. Colorado's Jeremy Aldrich kicked a seemingly meaningless field goal. Then the Buff's heretofore woeful offense got a touchdown, then another flukey one, then another improbable one. In less than six minutes, the Buffaloes scored 21 incredible points.
The score was tied.
And with one second left, after still more heroics, CU needed only a simple 34- yard field goal from Aldrich, one of the best kickers in the nation.
Cornhusker heads were down, their impending loss obvious to all.
Yet, somehow and some way against all odds, Aldrich found a way to miss. His miss caused the Buffs to go on to lose in overtime, 33-30.
Or did it?
Absolutely not. It is one of the follies of sport that we invariably look at what happens at the end of games to figure out why the contests were won and lost. A bit of thoughtful analysis indicates there are typically about a half- dozen plays on which the outcome of any game pivots.
Aldrich, a bright and talented youngster with a lot of Sunday afternoon kicking in his future, didn't lose this game any more than any other player who participated. Almost all of them made mistakes. And those few who didn't certainly could have been better at what they did.
A few examples of mistakes that altered the outcome as much as Aldrich's wide right:
On the first play from scrimmage, Nebraska's Dan Alexander ran 50 yards for a touchdown when the Colorado defense looked both dumb and dumbfounded.
Alexander later ran 80 yards, right over the hapless Colorado defenders. For the afternoon the Buff defense allowed Husker ball carriers to average a whopping seven yards per carry.
Colorado had six fumbles, lost two.
Afterwards, one CU defensive player said on a national interview that "our kicker choked." Not true. Aldrich missed. Period. The bigger point is that Aldrich's accuser played on a defense that in the first three quarters allowed 27 points and 340 yards. The pot should not be accusing the kettle of anything.
The finger-pointer would have been far better advised to point out that Aldrich had certainly kept up his part of the game plan. Aldrich nailed a 33-yard field goal, then got the rally going with a difficult 49-yarder. And, showing stern character, returned in the overtime after missing the potential game winner, and hit another 33-yarder to put the Buffs ahead by three.
Alas, the defense once again could not perform and Nebraska scored the winning TD a few moments later.
The agony goes even deeper because the opportunities for opponents to beat Nebraska occur with the approximate frequency of a total sun eclipse. But the true agony will be born forevermore by Jeremy Aldrich. His miss, lore will go, caused Colorado to lose. His miss from 34 yards, lore will go, is unfathomable.
Never mind his 48 field goals in his career are by far a school record; never mind he kicked a school record five field goals earlier this year against Kansas; never mind he scored all CU points in 1996 in a 17-12 loss to Nebraska.
It's just not fair. The ache he feels now will dull. Jeremy Aldrich will laugh again as he celebrates perfect kicks. There will be plenty of wondrous sunrises and sunsets for him to marvel at in the future.
But forevermore, Aldrich will be remembered as the one who ... blah, blah, blah. That's very crummy.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society