The College Football Dilemma: What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
"As I walk through this land of broken dreams, I have visions of many things. What becomes of the broken hearted, who has love that now departed?...I know I've got to find, some kind of peace of mind. Help me...Please," sang Misissippi's own Jimmy Ruffin in 1966.
With all apologies to the magic of Motown, there have been many such situations that dedicated college football fans have faced since the big brother of the Temptations' lead singer had a hit song with that plea.
One should admit that far more times a loss by your beloved team has broken your heart than a love gone sour.
How often does the latter occur? Two, three times in a lifetime? Your team can send you into despondency that many times in one season!
Let's take a look at several shocking events during the past decades that have sent many a dedicated fan wishing they had never began following football.
In 1967 Georgia was predicted as high number two in preseason magazines. The defending SEC co-champions seemed primed to become the big boss of America with early wins while top-ranked Notre Dame fell to Purdue.
In a bitterly fought night-time struggle deep in the heart of Dixie, the Rebels of Ole Miss overcame a talent deficit by funnelling their raw hatred of the "outside world" into a shocking 29-20 upset of the Bulldogs.
So stunned were the troops of Vince Dooley that they were sent reeling to four losses that year. So much in despair was one Bulldog fan that he leaped from the old Railroad Tressel near Sanford Stadium.
It would be another 13 years before the Bulldogs would claim their much-sought after top position in the polls, with a 1980 national title engineered by the running of legendary Herschel Walker.
It would be easy to point to the heartbreaking losses by Oklahoma to Nebraska in 1971, Penn State to Alabama in the '78 season's Sugar Bowl, and Ohio State in the '70 and '75 season Rose Bowls.
But that would not be accurate.
The Sooners, Nittany Lions, and Buckeyes all recovered to present fearsome teams almost immediately.
The devastating loss of this decade was provided by the 1977 Texas Longhorns in that season's Cotton Bowl.
Undefeated, top ranked, and possessing the Heisman Trophy winner in Earl Campbell, the Longhorns looked to avenge the 1970 season-ending loss to Notre Dame in Dallas that cost the Lone Star boys the AP title.
The Longhorns never knew what hit them.
The Irish had a quarterback of some regional fame named Joe Montana, and he simply ate Texas alive. The final score was 38-10, and when the dust settled, Notre Dame was proclaimed the national champion.
Thanks to a stunning loss to Georgia in the '83 season Cotton Bowl (The Bulldogs had learned their lesson by then), the truth is it would be another 28 years after 1977 before the Longhorns could produce another national champion.
Wonder whatever happened to that Montana guy?
Plenty of bitter losses in this decade of excess and extremes, but so many of the losers bounced back to immediately become strong. Cases in point—Nebraska loses to Miami, Miami loses to Penn State, Florida State loses to Miami.
Consider this: In 1981 undefeated Pittsburgh, led by its fine local quarterback, Dan Marino, was the No. 1-ranked team in the country going into its regular-season finale.
It would be a home contest against hated Penn State, who came into town with losses to Miami and Alabama.
After a few minutes the score was 14-0 Panthers, and the match appeared to be a laugher.
The Nittany Lions scored the next 48 points and rolled to one of the most shocking victories in football history, 48-14.
The Panthers have not sniffed a national title in the past 28 years since that drubbing.
Now, that is leaving a dagger in the heart of your enemy.
Too easy to point to Miami versus Alabama in the '92 season Sugar Bowl (see pictured above). The Hurricanes came back to lose another national title game just two years later and by the end of the decade the "U" was stalking another championship.
Florida losing to Nebraska? Come on, just 12 months later the Gators won the national championship by destroying their most hated enemy, Florida State.
No, we've got to dig deeper. Ignore the re-writing of history. Forget the media circuses. What one game crushed a titan's program?
Allow me to present: The UCLA Bruins.
The 1998 Bruins reached the final game of the regular season undefeated and ranked second in the country, first in some corners. They were, in effect, the present day Southern Cal program before Pete Carroll came to the city of angels.
The prior year UCLA had annihilated Texas 66-3, beaten Southern Cal, and finished number five in the polls. The '98 edition had already beaten Texas and the Trojans by double digits, and was ready to wrap up a national title.
A strange twist of fate had left one obstacle in the way. The Bruins were slated to play fading Miami on the road in September.
But an actual Hurricane postponed the game.
To the credit of UCLA, they chose to reschedule for December. By that time, the 'Canes were on a roll.
Miami cut down the fearsome Bruins, 49-45. Since that game, discounting a schedule-friendly 2005 campaign, the Bruins are 53-56. But even in that year of cupcakes, the Bruins lost by a total of 85 points to Arizona and Southern Cal.
Oh, the pain for Bruin fans who have watched the past decade in silent misery.
Could be Michigan, who lost the final game of '06 to Ohio State and hasn't recovered. Could be. But enough time hasn't passed to make a true reflection on the effect of losing that game.
Might be Miami, who lost a lurid home-game performance to Tennessee in 2003 and has never been the same.
You remember. Kellen Winslow Jr.'s "I am a soldier" game.
But one item we know for certain, Nebraska has not been the same since the undefeated Cornhuskers were "upset" by Colorado 62-36 in 2001.
Nebraska's outrageous selection to play for the BCS Title against Miami that season in the Rose Bowl simply bore out what was obvious.
Whatever the Cornhuskers had previously, they didn't have any longer.
Since showing up for the Colorado fiasco, the Cornhuskers have played 89 games, their record is 52-37. In the 89 games prior to that day, the Cornhuskers were 80-9, a cool spread of 28 games.
As the disheartened Big Red followers filed out out the Rose Bowl that evening, one wonders who realized how disappointing the current decade would be for them.
Cheer up, fellow football fanatics, there is a new season every year. However, the question for all of us: For whom will the bell toll in 2009?
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