Dear Nevada Wolfpack,
In the days following our loss to your team, we (Bronco Nation) have been – not surprisingly – focused on ourselves: what mistakes were made by our players; what mistakes were made by our coaches – even what mistakes were made by the referees. With the sad near-miss(es) by our beloved field goal kicker, such introspection only intensified. But one thing has been missing by most accounts: a recognition that your team played better than ours that night.
Your victory was no fluke. There were no “trick plays”, “Pick-6’s”, fumbles recovered for a touchdown, or major injuries to one of our star players. Simply put, your team played better ball, staging one of the better comeback victories I’ve ever seen.
Having attended both the Poinsettia Bowl and last Friday night’s game in person, I came away with the same feeling: the team that played better won. Football, fundamentally, is about the line of scrimmage. About opening holes or shutting them down. Lose the battle in the trenches and you probably lose the game. For the first time since the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, our Boys in Blue lost that battle. Your young men pushed ours around the field in the second half – and not surprisingly, won the game.
Was I shocked to watch Kyle miss a short field goal that would have won the game? You bet. Was I just as surprised to have seen your team’s defensive backs blow coverage on an obvious long ball the previous play? You bet. Yet somehow football’s Karma Gods made things even, saving those two defensive backs’ lifelong shame in the process – and allowed the two teams to battle it out in OT for a truer test of fate.
Yet still, we could not get the job done. Our Heisman-caliber QB, our monster running back, our NFL-caliber wide receivers, our fortress of an offensive line could not put the ball in the end zone. Why? Your team shut us down. Could our vaunted defense push back your offense on three straight plays – making a field goal challenging to make? No. You moved the ball - just enough to give your field goal kicker the confidence and the distance to make a play. Your team played better than ours. And won.
Sure, there are those who will say the intangibles won you the game. You know, intangibles like penalties, dropped balls, missed tackles, play calling, and weather. But these intangibles are part of every football game. Every team must deal with them. Sometimes the sum total of the intangibles favors one team, sometimes it favors the other. Winning teams figure out a way to get it done regardless of the balance.
As your field goal kicker punched the game-winning kick through the uprights, and your fans streamed onto the field, I began to absorb the previously unthinkable (a loss during our 2010 WAC regular season). I was surprised at my feelings. I was not shocked. I was not stunned. I couldn’t have those feelings. I didn’t have those feelings. Because for the previous thirty–plus minutes of football play, I had watched your team beat ours. For the previous thirty-plus minutes of football play, I had been forced to accept the fact that your team was playing better than ours that night. Play after play, I watched Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua pound our defense and systematically move the ball down the field. Play after play, I watched your defense stop our run and play close enough coverage to thwart Kellen’s passing. By the end of the game, it was not a surprise to me that we had lost. By the end of the game, I knew in my heart that during that cold November night, your team had beaten ours. So to the Nevada team, and the Nevada fans, Congratulations.
Surprisingly, I had other feelings as well. Part of me was actually happy for your team. Bronco Nation does not have a monopoly on baby-faced young men with dreams and aspirations. Your team also has young men – transitioning from childhood to adulthood - working hard in the hopes they would some day be able to achieve the unthinkable.
Because of the way your team was able to play on Friday night, through pain and against the odds, they earned the experience of a lifetime. As sad as I was to see our young men lose, I was (almost) as happy for your young men. They clearly earned it. And they deserve to enjoy it.
See you next year,