Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Finish For the Ages In East Lansing, Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31

Keith Nichol went to Michigan State to play QB. He ended up moving to WR, and tonight, he was the hero of the night, catching a deflected hail mary known in Michigan State's playbook as "Rocket". Wisconsin defenders tried everything that they had to pull Nichol away from the endzone, but it was purely the will of Nichol, who had transferred to MSU from Oklahoma, to move that ball past the plane, and into the endzone.
The play went to replay, as there was no time left. Spartan Stadium went silent. Tension flowed through the crowd as everyone waited with baited breath to see if the Spartans would be given the gift of gifts in the form of an overturned decision. The refs had spotted the ball just short of the goal line. It seemed the the spirits of all Spartans past convened at that very moment to sway the booth officials, as they had seen on a zoom view that maybe a quarter of the nose of the ball had actually penetrated the line. The call was reversed, and Michigan State had won the game, 37-31. That single call also ruined any realistic chances that Wisconsin had at eventually playing for a national championship.
The gravity of that call was shown on so many faces on this night. It was shown in the jubilance of Mark Dantonio as we prayed that the emotion of the moment would not lead to a repeat of the heart attack he had suffered during a similarly emotional last second win against Notre Dame last fall. The exuberance showed on the face of Nichol, who seemingly had players draped over his back as he ran all over the field in pure joy. It showed in the face of Kirk Cousins, the embattled Spartan QB whom nobody ever seems to fully appreciate, and is always under the national radar.
The brevity of the moment also showed on the face of Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema. His face was frozen in disappointment, the absolute shock that this magical season had just lost its luster. There would be no championship run for the Badgers, and no shot at winning the title for Russell Wilson, who had put all of the eggs of his one season of eligibility in the Badger Basket. It would show on the face of Wilson himself, as he hurriedly left the field to do God knows what, but certainly to shield himself from the self imposed probable shame of defeat.
It showed during the play on the faces of Wisconsin Cheerleaders who practically leaned into the field themselves to push Nichol away from the endzone that spelled probable doom for the Badgers. It probably showed in the face of Offensive Coordinator Dan Roushar, who's face we never got to see. You had to know that Roushar was teleporting his will across the stadium to just push his guy through. The amazing thing is that all of this happened in just a span of four miracle seconds.
The moral of the story is one simple statement. Everything, it seems, just might happen for some bizarre reason. Either that, or it could be that the world works at complete random, but whatever you may believe, tonight, Keith Nichol was meant not to be a QB, as he had transferred to Michigan State to be, but rather, he was supposed to be a receiver. Tonight, it was his destiny to catch the rocket, his destiny to be in the right place at the right time, so that magic could happen in East Lansing. Even if you were not a Michigan State fan (well, maybe this won't apply for Badger fans), this is what you wait for all season as a college football fan. We were meant to have witnessed this play, and Keith Nichol was meant to be there to give all of us that moment in time that creates instant classics in this great sport.
Keith Nichol went to Michigan State to play QB. Tonight, he was a WR, and a hero.

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