Typical fall Saturdays are filled with college football games—the networks are booked with contests from early in the morning until late at night. But now the regular season is over and the bowl games have begun. The early bowls are between teams that had winning seasons (except for those with 6-6 records) who didn’t qualify for the College Football Playoff or the New Year’s Day games. Most fans are not skipping their trip to Home Depot or the Christmas pot luck to watch Fresno State play Washington State.
Forever the marketing geniuses, the National Football League (NFL) steps in to fill the void. Normally, the NFL is on Sundays. On Saturday, they gave us three games and two of them were barnburners.
The later game was in Buffalo between the Bills and the Miami Dolphins. Top-ranked in the American Football Conference, the Bills needed a win to retain that ranking. The Dolphins, at 8-5 , were trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. It was a close game—the Bills were in the lead at the end of the first half, but the Dolphins jumped ahead in the third quarter.
With the game nearing its end, the Bills scored a touchdown and needed a two-point conversion for the tie. Their quarterback, Josh Allen, did a quarterback leap and stretched enough to barely break the plane of the endzone. Originally it was judged unsuccessful—video evidence got that overturned. With the score 29-29, the Dolphins got the ball back and were thwarted by the Bills’ defense.
Only 2 seconds remaining in the game and snowfall, and the accumulation were a factor, using their hands, the Bills’ players dusted enough snow off the field to give their kicker, Tyler Bass, a clear runway for the game-winning field goal. Final score, Bills 32, Dolphins 29.
Earlier in the day, a historic game took place in Minneapolis—the Vikings versus the Indianapolis Colts. The Vikings’ record of 10-3 made them the favorite over the 4-8-1 Colts. At the end of the first half, the Colts led 33-0.
I almost turned the TV off. I did that during the 2006 Rose Bowl game when my team, the Texas Longhorns, was trailing USC by two scores with only 6:42 minutes remaining in the game. I woke up the next morning to discover Texas won 41-38.
The reason the Vikings vs Colts game is historic is that the Vikings pulled off the biggest comeback in NFL history. They won 39-36 in overtime.
This was not Curt Cousins, the Viking quarterback’s only big comeback. When Cousins was the Washington Redskins’ shot-caller in 2015, he led his team to a 24-point comeback win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Often portrayed as one who succumbs in high-pressure situations, as Cousins was leaving that game, he angrily said “You like that?” to the camera. That moment has become iconic in sports.
What adds to the intrigue of the Viking’s stunning comeback is the matter of who the Vikings’ opposing quarterback was. It was Matt Ryan. Ryan was the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback from 2008 until he was traded to the Colts in the spring of this year.
In 2016, with Ryan at the helm, the Atlanta Falcons reached the Super Bowl. Against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots, the Falcons led the Patriots 28-3 only to lose with a final score of 34-28. It was a jaw-dropping disintegration of the Falcons, primarily due to penalties, poor clock management, and inept coaching at the end of the game. Many believe that if Atlanta had just allowed the clock to run down more when they held the ball toward the end of the game, they would have won.
Something else that few sports fans are aware of happened on Saturday. The University of Texas women’s volleyball team won the NCAA Volleyball Tournament and National Championship.
Volleyball is mainly thought of as an Olympic sport, one that gets attention only every four years. That’s disappointing because among the best, most skilled, most daring, and athletic women in sports are volleyball players. Women’s soccer players only run, block one another, and advance a ball down the field—yet they get most of the acclaim.
To become the NCAA Volleyball Champion, a collegiate team must go through the rigorous regular season, qualify for a 64-team season-concluding tournament, and march through the country’s best women’s volleyball teams. Texas had to beat 6 opponents in the tournament to win the national championship.
An interesting observation about women’s collegiate sports—it’s rare that top seeds get knocked off in their tournaments (basketball, softball, volleyball) while in men’s collegiate sports, it’s not unusual. Last year in the March Madness men’s tournament, 15th seed tiny St. Peter’s beat the mighty 2nd seed Kentucky. Apparently, women’s sports prognosticators are better than men’s.
As’ Barnburners’ go – this Saturday delivered.