The stuff dreams are made of

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 3, 2007

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

Snatching a page from a book that contains such stories as the 1983 NC State men’s basketball team, Cinderella and Rocky Balboa, Boise State University’s football squad has now etched its name among underdogs that shocked the world.

Despite coming into Monday night’s Fiesta Bowl with a spotless 12-0 record, no one outside of Idaho gave the Broncos much of a chance against the powerful Oklahoma Sooners, a storied football program with seven national titles to its credit.

What unfolded on the turf at the University of Phoenix Stadium is what legends are made of.

Consider this….Boise State University is 75 years old. Founded in 1932, it spent its first 33 years of existence as a junior college and, after joining the Idaho system of higher education in 1969, still didn’t gain university status until 1974.

Stuck smack dab in the middle of “potato country,” Boise State’s claim to fame prior to Monday’s huge upset was its football stadium n complete with its blue (not green) turf.

Over the years, Boise State quietly built a football program on the strength of little-known players. There are no prime-time, five-star recruits at BSU, rather a collection of hard-nosed kids n blue-collar student-athletes n who simply love to play the game.

They played it well on Monday in front of a sell-out crowd of nearly 75,000 plus tens of millions watching on TV.

Standing toe-to-toe against one of the most highly regarded football programs in the nation, Boise State University never flinched. And in the process, they sent a loud and clear message that you do not have to be seeped in tradition to emerge victorious.

The underdog Broncos had Oklahoma on its heels by taking a surprising 28-10 lead deep into the third quarter. Somehow we all knew that the Sooners would battle back, and they did.

Oklahoma rallied to within 28-17 when a punt deep inside Bronco territory bounced off a BSU player’s leg. Oklahoma recovered and drove a short 10 yards for the score.

After a field goal further sliced the Sooners’ deficit to eight, Oklahoma drove 77 yards in just six plays and scored with 1:26 left in regulation on a five-yard pass from Paul Thompson to Quentin Chaney. But the Sooners needed a two-point conversion to deadlock the contest and, on the third try (the first two were negated by a penalty on each club) they succeeded when Thompson rifled a pass to Juaquin Iglesias.

On first down after the ensuing kick-off, it appeared that BSU’s glass slipper shattered when Bronco quarterback Jared Zabransky was picked-off and Marcus Walker returned the interception 33 yards to paydirt. Oklahoma had its first lead of the game at 35-28 with only 62 ticks left on the clock.

I nearly cried right there in my chair. Not that I’m a Boise State fan, but for the simple reason that I was pulling for the underdog.

But Zabransky and the Broncos coaching staff would not let their team down.

Facing a fourth-and-18 play from midfield, BSU coach Chris Petersen reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out the old hook-and-lateral play. Zabransky tossed a 15-yard pass to Drisan James on the left and he, in turn, pitched the pigskin to Jerard Rabb sliding across the field from the right. Rabb then streaked down the sideline and dove into the end zone, tying the game with seven seconds left and forcing overtime.

Oklahoma All-American Adrian Peterson scored on the first snap of the extra period, but BSU answered with another trick play by putting the quarterback in motion and the snap went directly to Vinny Perretta who rolled right before lofting a five-yard TD pass to tight end Derek Schouman.

“And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead, and he fell upon his face to the earth.” n 1 Samuel, 18:29.

What happened next was right out of the Biblical verse listed above. Coach Petersen decided to end it right here and opted for the opportunity to run a possible game-winning two-point conversion play rather than forcing a second overtime with a PAT kick.

Coach Petersen immediately became a hero in my book. He demonstrated what college football is all about n having the faith in his team to execute the play and win the game. Using perhaps the oldest trick play known to man, Petersen called for the “Statue of Liberty.” Three wide receivers bunched together on the right side of the formation. Zabransky faked a throw in that direction and with his arm still cocked in a passing motion, running back Ian Johnson took the ball off his teammate’s fingertips and ran into the history books n shocking Oklahoma with a 43-42 win.

It could have all ended right there, but there was one more page to this storybook tale.

During a sideline interview following the game, Johnson fell to his knees and proposed marriage to his girlfriend n BSU senior cheerleading captain Chrissy Popadics. She said yes in front of the stadium crowd and the TV audience.

No one could have scripted either the game or the proposal. It was the stuff that dreams are made of.