Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fiesta Bowl Observations

I wasn’t sure what I was in for, Monday night, but knew it was going to be memorable for me. It was Andrew Luck's (and most of the 2008 recruiting class) last college game. And, after following Andrew for the past three years, this was going to be our last time watching him in a Cardinal uniform.

The team on the field before the game
Before I share some of my observations from the game, I just need to back up and start at the beginning. I want to thank my friend, Libby, who is like a sister to me, for taking me along with her on this journey. For without her, none of this would’ve been possible—it would’ve have been nearly as much fun, I wouldn’t have experienced this in quite the same way, or witnessed the turning around of a program from one of the best seats in the house(!).
And, I must admit, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. It was Libby’s constant questions about what I thought, what was going on, and telling me I needed to share my thoughts with others (again) that helped bring me to this point. So, thanks Libby, for being the best, as always.

Just a few observations about the game:
Indoors vs. outdoors. This was the first indoor football game I’ve attended. I’m from Wisconsin and football is played outside. I know our neighboring states (Michigan and Minnesota) have domed stadiums, but not in Wisconsin. I was brought up with football being played in the elements and that was half the fun. I remember all those great Packers games in Green Bay in December and January in the snow/cold. The fans in their orange hunting gear--now, that’s football! A few months ago, some friends on Facebook were asking folks to share a weather-related football game they went to. It was a popular post. I have quite a few memories from a fan’s perspective and a sportswriter’s (trying to keep my notes from melting away!). My favorite is going to the Wisconsin-Northwestern game in Dyche Stadium in Evanston, with my brother, Tom. It rained, sleeted, hailed, snowed, and was windy—we had everything during the game. And, in Brown tradition, we stayed til the bitter end (with a few other brave souls!) and then walked home. My sister-in-law had been waiting for us for hours…if she didn’t know before, she knew then…we were committed fans (or crazy!). So, this indoor stuff is not for me. It’s like a made-for-tv event. The air is stale and recycled…and gets cooler as the game wears on. The sound is muffled. And, we were in Arizona in January…what weather were we being protected from?

You mean we didn’t win? I am still grappling with this one. As a Wisconsin Badger fan and Cubs fan, I am used to losing. And even though Wisconsin is winning now and goes to a bowl nearly every season, I still am not shocked when the Badgers lose. Now, after only a day or so of wearing black, I get over the loss (just kidding!). But, I can put things in perspective much quicker after a loss. Not so, with the Fiesta Bowl. This one will stick with me for a while…as I’m sure it will with the players. This loss is different. And, it’s because the way it ended. The team played amazing—I am sure this is the best Fiesta Bowl game ever.

So, the big question is why didn’t Coach Shaw keep the ball in the hands of the senior leader-- the guy who wants the ball in that situation, the guy who has carried the team and can deliver? Why didn’t they try for the touchdown at the end of regulation? I know conventional wisdom may say be conservative take the field goal. But, conventional wisdom doesn’t take into consideration Andrew. It doesn’t take into consideration he was marching down the field and that everyone had taken it up a notch. The offensive line was doing what they did all season…give their quarterback time to make plays, block not only for him, but for the backs.

Everyone in the stadium could sense it. This is what was meant to be…everything on the line and Stanford was going to win this game. Until Coach Shaw did the wrong thing. Yes, that’s right…he had three timeouts, time on his side, and Andrew Luck. And, he didn’t take advantage of this. Instead, he didn’t believe. When, asked about this after the game he said… that Oklahoma State was a good take-away team and basically he was afraid of a turnover.
Griff Whalen
What? Did I hear that correctly? Your quarterback is, what you called a sure-thing college football Hall of Famer, and you are afraid of a turnover? You didn’t let him play for the win? You didn’t call the play that had worked so well on the previous drive…Andrew rolling out and passing to Griff Whalen?

By the way, Griff had an excellent game with 7 receptions for 85 yards. Definitely a highlight reel day for him—NFL scouts should take notice. Griff is the real deal and should be playing on Sundays next year.
And, Andrew, well he was just Andrew. A breath-taking performance as always. He had an incredible game—completing 20 of 21 passes from the second quarter through the end of regulation. His totals were 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards. And, while we are all still in shock at how this game ended, we shouldn’t lose sight of what Andrew did in this game. I know, we all wanted to win, but this was one of the best bowl performances of the season and, one of the best, I have ever seen. Again, he proved he is the full package, a once in a lifetime player.

Coach Shaw, your guys put it all out there. All you had to do was let the boys play. You said they didn’t finish…no, you didn’t finish. We were ready, they were all poised, and you didn’t let it happen.
Thanks Andrew, Griff, Coby (Fleener), Zach (Ertz), Sam (Schwartzstein), Dave (DeCastro), Jonathan “Moose” (Martin), Chase (Thomas), and the rest of the team for leaving it all out on the field Monday night. You played your hearts out. As a fan, I couldn’t ask for anything more. You all played as a team at the top of your abilities. I believed in you and you didn’t disappoint.