SALT LAKE CITY — Whether it's a football game or a movie, I like a good ending. Which is why I wasn't too happy about the way a couple of New Year's bowl games ended, each one featuring a kicker who blew it and a kicker who won it.
There are two things wrong with this.
I pity the poor kicker who misses. I can't help it. I'm a sucker for a sad story. I've never even been able to sit through all of "Old Yeller." Missing a game-winning field goal in front of 60,000 people plus a TV audience — I wouldn't wish that experience on Vladimir Putin (although I might wish it on Kanye West).
That's got to be the longest walk in sports, getting from midfield back to the sideline. Me? I'd catch the first bus out of town. Even for a road game. Then there's the problem of what to do when the kicker gets to the sideline. Awwwkward. He's the white elephant sitting in the middle of the room.
Kickers from Stanford and Georgia whiffed on decisive kicks at the end of the Outback and Fiesta bowls. Not once, but twice — each! Worst ending since Gus McCrae died in "Lonesome Dove."
Who can be happy about a poor kicker whiffing and living forever with the knowledge that he cost his team and school a big win?
Besides, can't we keep playing football? Look, I know we all grew up with football so we're used to it, but think about the absurdity of the game for a moment. For 59 minutes giant, athletic men pound the steroids out of each other. They've got mud and grass stains on their uniforms or turf burns on their elbows, and they're sweaty, bruised and exhausted. Then out trots a little guy in a clean uniform — whom no one is allowed to touch — to finish the job for them.
For all we know, he's been reading magazines in the green room and tapping his toe, looking at his watch. Can we hurry it up, fellas; I gotta study for my accounting test. He's usually small and isn't really part of the game, and his specialty doesn't have much to do with the essence of the game either, the essence being to pound the snot out of the other guy. But there it is: The game ends, anticlimactically, on a kick or two or three, depending on whether the opposing coach has called timeouts to try to "ice" the kicker. Fun.
We were having a nice little football game — then this guy steps out of the green room to settle it with football's version of the PK — penalty kick.
If we wanted to watch soccer, we'd move to England.
It's the equivalent of Tiger Woods handing a putter to his caddy on the 18th hole on the final day of a four-day tournament and telling him to sink the last putt.
Exhibit A: Outback Bowl.
After their defense intercepted a pass in the first overtime, Georgia coaches didn't even try to get into the end zone. They opted to kneel the football to line up a straight 42-yard shot for kicker Blair Walsh. The kick was wide right. Walsh made a 47-yarder in the second overtime and then Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy made a field goal to tie the score and force another overtime. In the third overtime, Conroy made a field goal and Walsh's 47-yard field goal attempt — which was low to begin with — was blocked. Game over.
EXHIBIT B: Fiesta Bowl.
Once inside Oklahoma State territory, Stanford called a conservative game, obviously setting up a field goal. The plan backfired when Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yarder on the last play of regulation. Moments later, he missed a 43-yarder on Stanford's first possession in overtime. Wide left again.
After a long pass play gave OSU a first down at the 1-yard line, the Cowboys elected not to try for a touchdown. They ran one play, downing the ball in the middle of the field to set up a field goal. Quinn Sharp made a 22-yard kick to win the game. Another Tale of Two Kickers — one happy, one sad.
Williamson, shown sitting dejectedly on the bench by the TV cameras, looked like Woodrow Call after Gus died. What is this poor guy going to tell the kids when they ask about the time he played in the Fiesta Bowl?
He probably won't encourage them to be kickers.
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