Monday, January 3, 2011

Rose Bowl Fly-Over


Sweet.....

We Won the Rose Bowl. No Big Deal.

Rose Bowl
Dead, Solid Perfect.

I’ve been sitting here for the past 15 minutes thinking of how I wanted to get this thing kicked off without sounding like a clichéd sports writer who has had his lead perfectly planned since the game was announced. Clearly there are a lot of emotions associated with Saturday’s game, far too many to encompass even in the 4000 or so words that are likely to follow this sentence. Like many of our readers, I’m not a tortured TCU fan; the “worst” season I can remember vividly is 2003 when we went 5-6, yet still took out a ranked Southern Miss team at the end of the season, slightly exorcising those demons from the previous season. The next worst would be Dalton's first year in 2007 when we went 7-5 yet still went to and won a bowl game. To suggest that those two years laid the foundation for the overwhelming sense of excitement that I experienced in Pasadena on Saturday would be a grave insult to the TCU fans older than myself, many of whom sat right around me at the game, who truly know and understand how unreasonable that moment seemed 15 years ago. When you’ve seen your head coach die on the sidelines, or witnessed your fans storm the field after winning their final game of the season, not because it was a rivalry game, but because it was the only game you won all year, the sinking feeling I had after the 2007 game against Air Force feels trivial by comparison, and honestly a bit silly. So no, I’m not going to try and make some big, sweeping indictment about the moment itself, but rather fire this thing up with the exact emotional explosion I had once Waymon James picked up those last 6 yards and officially iced the game for TCU, seemingly unbeknownedst to everyone in my immediate vicinity, rather through skepticism or pure disbelief.

“COME ON EVERYBODY!!! WE JUST WON THE FUCKING ROSE BOWL!!!”

It's not much, but at that point it’s really all I had. The older TCU couple in front of me appreciated it, the young Wisconsin family on the other side did not. Regardless, it had the desired effect because anyone in ear shot absolutely erupted. I’m not trying to say I singlehandled swung the intensity of the moment, but I’m not denying it either. That’s how big I felt right then. Just an incredible, incredible moment. And while I really need to wrap this up and start talking about the game, you really can’t get into the nuts and bolts without first talking about the aura of the Rose Bowl itself.

And like Teri Hatcher’s rack, it was real and it was SPECTACULAR.

With Texas having played at the venue three times since 2005, I’d imagine some of you have probably seen the place before, but for the majority of us, this was our first and likely only chance to take in a game in Pasadena. And my god, you cannot even imagine what it was like unless you were there. Not to rub it in to the folks who were unable to attend… but 15 years down the road, you should totally lie and say you were there because had I not gone, I would’ve regretted it forever. I’d heard a lot about the setting, the size and the fanfare, but you genuinely have to see it to believe it. The stadium is literally in the middle of a golf course in the middle of a high class neighborhood in the middle of the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Our driver took us in straight down the parade route, took one left turn and, as we looked out the window, it was exactly how you picture the Rose Bowl to be. I could’ve taken a picture at that exact moment and it would’ve looked like any Sports Illustrated shot of the game you’ve ever seen.

But the funniest part about it all? Despite all the acclaim it gets, the Rose Bowl is easily one of the most poorly conceived sporting venues in the entire country. It makes the old Cotton Bowl feel like Jerry World and accessible by comparison. The engineers clearly wanted to keep the old school authenticity intact, so even when they expanded the stadium from where it was 100 years ago to the near 100,000 capacity it is now, they didn’t improve the infrastructure one bit. Each section only has one entrance for roughly 5,000 people, so even if you’re on the front row, you have to go through the same entrance as the guy on the top row - or me as it was Saturday. In other words, leaving your seat once you found it was pretty much a non-possibility if you wanted to watch more than half of the game because even after the 15 minutes it took you to get through the tunnel, you were out another 15-20 waiting in line for a bathroom. So once I sat down at 1:30 in my seat, I did not leave its confines until the game was entirely over, which left me malnourished and very, very thirsty. And you know what? If we made it back, I’d do it over and over again. In a heartbeat. Wisconsin fans may have been jealous about our victory, but I’m just as jealous that they have the opportunity to play there on a yearly basis. I’ve always thought that the, “Grandaddy of Them All” moniker was a bit corny and overblown, but there’s no other way to describe it. It truly is the greatest sporting I have ever attended and nothing even comes close.

But ah yes, believe it or not a GAME actually took place Saturday… so I guess we should talk about it.

Going with the one whole one sentence lead in thing, I have an epitaph:

Here Lies The Andy Dalton Haters

RIP January 1, 2011.

"We never knew why they hated you,

it must've been the red hair,

but you just capped your career by winning the Rose Bowl,

So who the hell cares?

Because if you look back on Dalton’s career and still can’t have an overwhelmingly positive feeling about him, then you should have your season tickets revoked. The old codgers are always going to tout Davey O’Brien and Sam Baugh as the greatest TCU QB’s to ever play, but when they’re dead and gone and it’s up to our generation to carry the torch, Dalton is going to be that guy. LaDainian Tomlinson did a ton for the program and I definitely appreciate him helping to put us back on the map, but next to my AD jersey, those #5’s are going to be used as emergency backups only. Because in the biggest game of his career – likely the biggest game he will ever play in his football life – he took his nuts out and wielded them like a sledgehammer all over the Wisconsin defense Saturday afternoon.

Of course, it’s easy for me to heap praise on him when he accounted for 247 of our 301 offensive yards because that’s just criminal. But it’s the way he did it. Re-watch his TD run late in the first quarter, which put us up for good in the game, because it was the most perfectly executed read option I’ve ever witnessed. Wisconsin HAD to think he was going to run; he had on the two previous plays and had only handed it off once all day, a 1 yard gain to Ed Wesley. Yet, there was Wisconsin All-American Defensive End J.J. Watt in the open field eyeing Dalton… and he STILL took the bait, hesitating JUST enough for Dalton to pull the ball back and beat him to the outside. The play had to be reviewed, but it turns out Dalton had JUST put the ball over the goal line on the scamper despite getting smashed by a defensive back in the process. And that is as appropriate of a snapshot of Dalton’s career as I can think of: Out hustling and out smarting one of the premier defensive players in the country and taking a huge hit to put the Frogs back on top when it looked like the defense might be in for a longer day than anticipated. In the past, had we had a choice between putting it on the defense or Dalton for a win, we would’ve chosen the former. On Saturday AD proved that we would all be wrong. Dead wrong.

Of course, he didn’t just do it with his legs – the pass plays to Bart Johnson and Josh Boyce, the only catches for each on the day, were the exact passes that Andy would not have completed this time last year. The Johnson pass, especially, was a thing of beauty, and a ton of credit has to go to the Fuenderson’s who more than atoned for their performance in the Fiesta Bowl. Jeremy Kerley had been quiet all day, and as we’ve been prone to do in the situation, a short over the middle screen was called, and Bart Johnson sprinted out and spread his arms in front of him, attempting to pick up a block… except when Dalton pump faked to Kerley, Johnson took off running and caught the ball perfectly in stride for six. Then, when Wisconsin immediately answered with a TD of their own, the TD in the above paragraph happened, helped along by Boyce’s 44 yard reception down the sideline. Unlike Johnson’s TD, which was definitely trickeration, Boyce’s was simply speed and he made a phenomenal diving catch to seal the completion. Three more years of that guys.

Wisconsin then held the ball for all but three plays in the second quarter – a three and out was our only possession – helped along by a fake punt and overturned fourth down conversion. Despite the long lay off between possessions, Dalton came right back out to start the third quarter with a 9 play scoring drive that put us up by eight, a magic number that sealed the deal. But then, right when we looked unstoppable, a strange thing happened and our offense stalled. Some of it was due to penalties – I believe we had 4 false starts on the afternoon which killed some drives – and some of it was DEFINITELY due to faulty equipment for which Nike should be discontinued as a sponsor for. Seriously, how many big plays were made by Wisconsin or missed by TCU due to slipping? Whatever technology Nike invented for the Rose Bowl needs to be put down, along with whatever atrocious uniform they have undoubtedly designed for Oregon in the title game.

But I had a point here and need to find it… oh yeah, so the offense completely stalled for the rest of the game and we did not score or threaten to score another point. But, Dalton kept coming out and picking up just enough yards to run the clock and keep Wisconsin off the field. There’s a great picture on my camera of the scoreboard at the end of the game, and as much as the final score I noticed the time out differential which read TCU 3, Wisconsin 0. And that was the difference between Tolzien – the award winning senior QB, remember – and Dalton; Tolzien hindsightedly handed us the game with his two time out inducing mental breakdowns in the second half which later allowed us to run out the game, where Dalton kept his composure and was never forced into an unnecessary time out. There are still going to be those out there who reflect back on his career and try and dwell on the negatives no matter what is said or what has happened on the field. They’ll probably point out that Dalton had two passes that easily could’ve been picked off Saturday or that he kept the ball too often for their liking on runs. To those folks I say ask J.J. Watt about Andy Dalton, because I think he's still deep in the bowels of the Rose Bowl sobbing on national television because of him.

But my goodness, we’ve now gone 2000 words and haven’t even once mentioned the other hero of the Rose Bowl, Brent Musberger’s new whipping boy, Tank Carder. One of the major drawbacks of watching a live sporting event is that you can miss plays, even really big ones, because without the aid of instant replay, they aren’t drilled and redrilled into your head. So while you definitely noticed that Tank was having a huge day, I guess you just don’t necessarily realize HOW huge. I may not remember all six of his tackles, but holy crap he was all over the field! The statisticians had to have missed some tackles, right? I definitely remember his drive killing sack on Tolzien, though.

Oh yeah, and he made a pretty significant play towards the end of the game that may or not be remembered as the biggest in TCU football history. One of the advantages I did have as a spectator was that, other than Clay’s first quarter TD and Wiscy’s made field goal, all of the scoring occurred in the end zone that I was sitting directly on the side of, so the vantage point was absolutely ideal to watch AD work his magic and to see Wiconsin’s last drive go down. And, as for the latter part of that equation, it was ABSOLUTELY as terrifying in person as I’m sure it was on TV.

Just to refresh you, Wisconsin ended up winning the TOP battle by 13 minutes, so our defense was absolutely gassed and the way Wisconsin was moving the ball on that last drive, it was a matter of when they were going to score and if it was going to leave us enough time to try and make a last second kick to win the thing in regulation. I doubt even the most optimistic of TCU fans at that moment thought we would stone them for 4 straight plays and, assuming they scored, stop them from 3 yards out the way their run game was churning. I will say this about Wisconsin: that offensive line, hyped and slupred as it may have been, was absolutely every bit as salty as advertised and, had they not abandoned the run game a bit in the third quarter, I might be dictating a completely different, and much more brief, recap right now. Montee Ball is a THIRD STRING RUNNING BACK FOR GODSSAKES! And he absolutely drilled us. Every few plays I would hone in directly on a particular matchup just to see what kind of holes they were opening up, but when I saw the Wisconsin center pick up Cory Grant and his 300+ pounds and run with him across the field much like an obese juvenile might run back to their table with that last plate of fish sticks from Golden Corral, I knew I’d seen enough and that it was going to be up to Tanner, Tank, TeJay and Colin Jones to use their speed to slow down the Badgers running attack.

So back to Tank’s play, I will say that quite a few of us probably wished we were at home in the fetal position on our couches where we could mute the TV and close our eyes hoping to quell our nerves before the biggest play of the Patterson Era. Why Bret Bielma didn’t run the ball, I have no idea – GP suggested that they actually called the right play because we run blizted. Regardless, he’s going to remember that gaffe for the rest of his career, because I have a sinking feeling that had he given the ball to Clay, it would’ve been a tie game for sure. I suppose you know the rest of the story.

The thing about the Rose Bowl, to me at least, was that it’s so big and open that it makes it difficult for the crowd to be too extreme of a factor. Given, I was at the top of the joint, so it might have and likely did sound a lot different down on the field, but even when Wisconsin scored that final TD, the loudest that place had been all day to that point, it still didn’t sound THAT loud. That all changed when Tank made the most instinctive play of his life. The TCU section ERUPTED. People were hugging. A few tears may have made an entrance. And it took us all several minutes to remember that we still had to recover the onside and that the game was by no means over. Seeing Bart Johnson go up like that for his second touch of the day was pretty terrifying and seemingly frought with potential disaster, but I suppose he doesn’t have a catch in the last 500 games of his career because he has bad hands. I remember a lot of great sequences in recent TCU Football history; nothing will ever come close to topping the last two minutes of the 2011 Rose Bowl.

Andy and Tank took home the MVP awards, and they definitely should have, but upon rewatching the game yesterday afternoon on DVR, there were definitely some other players who, although not besting those two guys, were at least deserving of consideration. The first to spring to mind is the often overlooked Jimmy Young, who if he can play like he did Saturday will be worth every penny of luxury tax a future NFL employer might have to pony up for him. Five catches for 57 yards isn’t going to jump out and grab anyone, and it isn’t going to get him recognized nationally, but other than Dalton, was anyone more integral to our success in Pasadena than Young, offensively? Of the five receptions, four were good for first downs, and the fifth, the opening play for our offense, went for nine. He didn’t get into the end zone, but the way he helped us keep drives going was almost as important as the points we put on the board. This shouldn't come as a shock for a receiver who is among the career leaders for TCU and nearly had a 1000 yard season two years ago, but given the emergence of Kerley, Boyce and Johnson, it’s been easy to overlook his overall accomplishments. There couldn’t have been a better ending to the senior’s career than the one he had Saturday.

Bart Johnson, too, should get some special recognition, not for the quantity of big plays he made, but for the quality, as his one reception was for a TD and his other touch allowed us to run out the clock. Same goes for Waymon James – on a day where none of our running backs were able to get much going and Wesley was pulled, he came in and used his low center of gravity to sneak around the Wisconsin defense and had the biggest first down of the year. He only finished with 24 yards, but they were all absolutely necessary to our win.

Deserving of his own section as well is Jeremy Kerley, who may not have had a return for a TD this entire season and who may not have made the big breakaway play we’ve come to take for granted, but who deserves credit for our second touchdown as much as anyone with his 35 yard return setting up a short field. Despite not having the noticeable impact of Young, he also led all receivers with 6 catches and took a couple of handoffs, despite those runs being snuffed out. You can’t emphasize enough the importance of having Kerley on the field when it comes to opening up plays for other guys – see the Bart Johnson TD. If there’s a face for the whole, “He just stretches the field!” cliché, it would be Kerley and I can’t believe the ride is over. Good luck at the next level.

Moving on to the topic of defense, Colin Jones was absolutely all over the field Saturday, co-leading the team with 10 tackles, including a sack in the second quarter. You couldn’t be happier for the senior from Bridgeport, as he missed all of last season with an injury and had to earn his position back in the offseason from Tyler Luttrell. Just a huge, huge game from a player who will be greatly missed. Same goes for his 10 tackle partner in crime, TeJay Johnson, who had two game changes tackles from behind in the first and fourth quarters to keep Montee Ball and John Clay out of the end zone. TeJay gets all the All-America acclaims, and he proved his worth Saturday, helping limit the Badgers to 159 passing yards and slowing the ground game just enough to preserve the win. Once it became apparent that our front four were not going to be able to get much penetration against the beefy Badgers line, the staff rightly made adjustments to let our speedy linebackers and safeties handle the load. Jones and Johnson more than carried their weight.

But, I can’t make these mentions without giving credit to perhaps the Co-Offensive MVPs of the game, and the reason why Dalton was able to have the day that he did. I’m talking, of course, about the offensive line. Just think about what these guys have gone through this past month, hearing over and over how talented and big and bruising Wisconsin’s offensive line is and how they were going to be the biggest difference in the outcome of the game, with nary a mention of their own talents. They could’ve come out flat, their pride beaten; instead, they played their best football of the season, keeping Dalton upright all day and giving him enough time to make his big plays. Zero sacks against a defensive line that thrives on them. Take J.J. Watt, for instance, who came into the game with 21 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. His final numbers? Three tackles. That’s it. Three. None for loss. No QB pressures. Nothing but a sore back and a wet hankerchief. I’m not making fun of the kid for crying on national television… but I’m making fun of the kid for crying on national television. Haha, nah, I’m not that cruel and I admire his competitive spirit, but I’m betting he’s never had a day as cold and lonely and upright as he did in Pasadena. And it wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the coaching staff because if you rewatch the game, they lined him up everywhere – over the left side, over the right side, between the tackle and center, literally everywhere but in the backfield. Our guys absolutely STONED him. Wisconsin’s offensive line may have paved the way for the biggest run day anyone has had against our defense in years, but you can’t discount what Jake Kirkpatrick, Zach Roth, Kyle Dooley, Marcus Cannon and Josh Vernon did. They have been the most thankless cogs in our well oiled offensive machine all year and you couldn’t help but recognize their efforts out there Saturday. All but Dooley are seniors and will be in the NFL next year. If you didn’t realize their impact now, you will then.

Finally, I don’t think we finish talking about this game without mentioning the man who made it all possible, one Gary Patterson from Rozel, Kansas. Of course, on this site and every other TCU related site in the world, Patterson has been lauded and deified to an absolutely embarrassing degree and the fact that he hasn’t had to file any restraining orders is just a testament to the patience and understanding of the man. And the ironic thing about all that love and adoration is that, really, Gary isn’t exactly the most lovable guy. I’m not trying to say he’s a jerk or an asshole or anything like that, but he’s just so all business all the time, sometimes you forget that there’s a human being behind the coaching façade that’s going through and experiencing the same roller coaster of emotions that we all do. And sitting in that stadium, listening to him after the game and seeing him smile – actually SMILE – while reveling in the win, that façade finally broke for all of America to see. Oh sure, he DID call off the Gatorade bath at the end of the game in a very Patterson-esque moment, but if you noticed, he was smiling the entire time and simply wanted the players to wait until the game was officially over before dousing him. Which, of course, try as he might to avoid it, they did.

For being such an old stadium, I will say the Rose Bowl has a very state of the art sound system, and we were able to hear every word anyone said, but naturally we were all so caught up in the moment that it was impossible to take everything in. So it was a double treat yesterday when I was able to rewatch the post game interviews and trophy presentation and just see how excited everyone was, Patterson included. After a big win we’re used to GP keeping his game face on by either downplaying the significance or focusing on a negative, and I see how this can rub outsiders the wrong way. But it has been cited by multiple sources, including SI’s Stewart Mandel and the LA Times’ Bill Plaschke, that in all of their time covering Rose Bowl, TCU was hands down the most jubilated team to ever win the thing. They all wanted Patterson to beat his chest and call for an overthrow of the BCS, or to lobby the AP voters to put the Frogs in first place; instead, he and the team reveled in the moment, understanding the enormity of the victory and handling it all with class. And, despite their reservations, the media loved every minute of it; hell, Chris Fowler was almost as giddy as the rest of the team! No one was thinking about the fact that second place in the polls and history book is our ceiling. That attitude definitely starts at the top and not many teams have that kind of positive leadership. Especially not Wisconsin, as Bret Bielma couldn’t avoid toeing the company line despite his best efforts, delivering a gem along the lines of how we’ll never know good TCU really is until they’re playing BCS caliber teams week in, week out in a couple of years. I’m sure Bielma was simply caught up in the gravity of the loss and shot his mouth off a bit, but regardless, they’re definitely hollow words from a weak, defeated man. Patterson never has done that and never would do that. That’s the difference, and the attitude he diffuses to this team is a major reason why we won. He's going to be around for a long time.

Honestly, I could go on talking about this for another few thousand words, but I’m sure I’ve lost most everyone by now, and those of you who remain must have some SERIOUS tired head, so I’ll wrap it up with this anecdote. After the game, the missus and I had a red eye flight home, but we had made a dinner reservation in Marina del Rey. Sitting at the bar before, all of the Patrons noticed our purple and would congratulate us on winning, thank us for coming, etc. So I ordered a nice, tall glass full of Jameson before we sat down, and by the time I was done, I was, to put it lightly, acting a little silly and not thinking too straight. Regardless, there was only one thing I was thinking about, and to her chargrin, just about any time we would start having a conversation I would just look across the table at her midsentence and exclaim, “WE WON THE ROSE BOWL!!” And when we got to the airport, when she was trying to catch a quick snooze before we left I would look at her and exclaim, “WE WON THE ROSE BOWL!!” And when she finally did fall asleep, knowing she’d ignore my voice, I texted her, “WE WON THE ROSE BOWL!!,” because I knew she’d check her texts immediately. And before we went to bed and when we woke up yesterday morning, I would exclaim, “WE WON THE ROSE BOWL!!”

And I’m still not sure it had completely settled in.

But, when I watched the post game celebration yesterday and saw the players hugging and crying and GP smiling and acting giddy, then I think it finally hit me. When something can make athletes cry and cause one of the most hard noses characters in all of college sports to run around and giggle like a kid, that’s more than an event. Because, as silly and clichéd and corny and hackneyed as it sounds, the Rose Bowl really is more than just another Bowl game. And TCU winning is more than just a trophy, it’s a paradigm shifter. No matter what Jim Delany and his cronies have to say, they can never scratch our name off of that trophy. No one can take it away from us. We'll always be able to tell our grandkids where we were on 1/1/11. And when the BCS inevitably crumbles? TCU will be right there, standing on the ashes and holding the match. Go Frogs.

Victory Dump

FYI - You can buy your own copy of the game here.

TCU finishes perfect with Rose Bowl win
- Star Telegram

No doubt now: TCU's return to greatness complete - Star Telegram

Tears flowed after TCU's hard fought Rose Bowl victory
- Star Telegram

TCU fans celebrate with team after return - Star Telegram

TCU's Patterson wont cave to media pressure - Star Telegram

TCU bursts BCS's big fat bubble - Star Telegram

Ranking the Top Non-AQ BCS wins - ESPN

TCU, UCF show they belong in the Big East - ESPN

Little Sisters of the Poor, no more - ESPN

Tank Carder seals the 2011 Rose Bowl with 'immaculate deflection' - Examiner

Horned Frog fans revel in TCU's Rose Bowl win
- Dallas Morning News

Even a great football season can show the need for more improvement - AL.com

TCU's 13-0 season not good enough for the national title - USA Today

New Years Day massacr: Big 10 lose 5 bowl games on one day - USA Today

TCU tops Wisconsin in the War of the Roses
- Bleacher Report

Southern football teams slaughter the Big Ten
- Bleacher Report

Losing Badger Jerry Kelley to wear mascot outfit during Colonial Pro-Am
- MSNBC

If Rams and Seahawks end in a tie does TCU go to the playoffs instead? - Beatweek Magazine

Recruiting

Decision time for Greg Townsend
- Scout

Basketball

Without top scorer, TCU men lose at Rice
- Star Telegram