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Archive for Monday, September 25, 2006

Wood: Great finishes galore

September 25, 2006

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Just 48 hours before watching South Florida march downfield in an attempt at a last-second victory Saturday, a great book arrived in the mail documenting the 116 greatest college football finishes since 1970.

It made me wonder whether another nomination was unfolding Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

South Florida didn't end up stealing the game, as Kansas University held on for a 13-7 victory. But whether watching on television or in person, sports fans crave the opportunity to witness a historical moment - one destined for a mention in the history books.

The book in the mailbox was "Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys" by Ted Mandell, a wonderful compilation of great moments in college football history. The book is made even better because it comes with two audio CDs of actual broadcasts of some of the game's greatest finishes.

Several months ago, Mandell recruited sports writers to participate in a poll listing the 10 greatest college football finishes in the past 35 years.

The criteria were simple: A Division I-A game since 1970, an improbable dramatic ending, a game on a "national stage" and high drama in the final five minutes. This was my list:

1. Stanford at California, 1982. Simply known as "The Play," a five-lateral kickoff return by Cal that ended with a Stanford trombone player on his butt. Simply legendary - it's difficult to imagine this ever being topped.

2. Southern California at Notre Dame, 2005. Excluding last year's Rose Bowl, this was probably the most hyped game in years. "The Bush Push" put a remarkable ending to a great game.

3. Brigham Young vs. SMU, 1980. BYU was down 20 points with 3:50 left in the 1980 Holiday Bowl and came all the way back, with a 41-yard prayer being caught as time expired.

4. Colorado at Michigan, 1994. "The Miracle in Michigan" was a delicious September matchup. Kordell Stewart launched one 73 yards in the air and found Michael Westbrook for an amazing touchdown with no time left. Colorado won, 27-26.

5. Texas vs. Southern California, 2006. Vince Young led an amazing comeback against one of college football's great dynasties. Texas won, 41-38.

6. Boston College at Miami, 1984. Perhaps the most famous pass in history, pint-sized BC quarterback Doug Flutie launched a 48-yard Hail Mary to Gerard Phelan as time expired.

7. Miami vs. Ohio State, 2003. The overmatched Buckeyes team won the national title thanks to a controversial pass-interference penalty in the first overtime.

8. Nebraska vs. Miami, 1984. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne went for the win after scoring a touchdown late but failed. Miami won the Orange Bowl, 31-30.

9. LSU vs. Kentucky, 2002. With Kentucky fans storming the field, LSU receiver Deverey Henderson found himself behind the defense and scored on a 75-yard pass with no time left.

10. Nebraska at Missouri, 1997. We all remember this well. Nebraska's unbeaten season was on the line, until a kicked ball at the end of regulation kept the pigskin off the turf and sent it into a Nebraska receiver's hand. The Huskers went on to win in overtime.

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