September 18, 2005

(Purdue 31, at UA 24)

Another week, another gut-destroying loss. This year's team should be sponsored by the Tucson Heart Hospital.

But before we get too far, here is the first of what I'm sure will be many apologies: A head-banging sage informed me that the Scorpions song played during the NAU game was "No One Like You" and not "Rock You Like A Hurricane." I hang my wannabe metal head in shame. While Ozzy on repeat was annoying, it wasn't offending anybody. My bad, Music Person.

On to Much Purdue About Nothing:

The red jerseys look great. I like the option of switching between blue and red, but right now the red looks better. The fanny pack in the back is more subtle, and the contrast with the navy blue helmets is very cool. I thought the red looked even sharper and bolder on the jumbotron. They will look awesome on TV. If we can somehow find some wins between now and then, perhaps they could be broadcast over the air for Homecoming against UCLA. A Cat can dream.

Speaking of garment colors, judging from the advanced age of most of the Purdue fans I saw at the game, their shirts must have been new gold when they bought them.

The game was unfortunately more of the recent same. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Ronnie Palmer is our starting middle linebacker. He hasn't played yet. Dane Krogstad replaced him and was our leading tackler. He didn't play against Purdue. Spencer Larsen started in his place and was injured before the smoke from the pregame fireworks had cleared. I don't even know who took his place.

The point is we played almost the entire game with our 4th string middle linebacker. FOURTH STRING. Do they even make that much string?

Add that both starting defensive ends were still out, and Stoops himself probably couldn't tell the players without a program. That mix-and-match defensive unit deserves a ton of credit for the second half however. Purdue got ten total points after halftime. Seven were the result of the muffed punt, and three were after the brain muff fake punt. That's it. If we can get two halves of D like that, and continue our passing production, things could get interesting in Berkeley.

More positive: Nick Folk is a beast. That 51-yarder--from the hash, into the open end of the stadium, with ten yards to spare--was the kicker's equivalent of a blind side sack/forced fumble. The kicking woes are long gone.

Our other kicker is beastly as well. Danny Baugher averaged 57.6 yards per punt. His net average was 48.6. He had a 76-yard kick. Whoa. It was almost comical. I was saying, "We're at our own 35. Here comes a 65-yard punt," and he'd do it. You're playing pretty well when you can kick it farther than the interstate speed limit. Even his one ugly end-over-ender rolled twenty yards and died on the two. Danny's kicks are goal-line-seeking missiles.

I can't say enough about Brad "Build This House With" Wood. The rumors are true: Size doesn't matter. Brad now has four touchdowns. Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller have one apiece. Dominique Byrd doesn't have any. Obviously defenses will start taking him seriously now. But that's one fewer defender on the line of scrimmage or one less guy clogging up the outside passing lanes. You can keep Propane. The 2005 Wildcats are fueled by Wood.

From about the end of third quarter on I was experiencing pain from something other than the score. I had gulped down a lemonade at halftime and nature was bellowing at the top of its lungs. I kept waiting for the game to get out of hand so I could head to port-o-row behind the bleachers. But it never happened. We hung in there. Sure I was doubled over by the time the final gun sounded, but I didn't want to miss a play. That means we've passed a new milestone on our road to football recovery: The Really Gotta Pee test. I wasn't going to move even if I ended up straining my bladder and going on the disabled list. If that's not a sign of good things to come…it's probably just too much information.

The game was close. The crowd was loud. The Wildcats were driving and Purdue's Frankenstein-looking mascot's hammer was trembling. Then Mike Thomas pulled a me. This is probably the first and only time I'll ever be able to say to a football player, "I know how you feel."

So there I was. (Cue the flashback sound effects.) My only year of organized football came on the freshman team at Flowing Wells High School. This is back when hip-hop was just something a rabbit did. We were playing at Salpointe and, typical of freshman football, neither offense was any good. It was a scoreless tie late into the fourth quarter. We had the ball in the vicinity of midfield and there was time for one final play.

As hard as it may be to believe, I was shorter and scrawnier than I am now. Our coach ran the plays in with the wide receivers and it just so happened to be my turn. I still remember the play call: "Slot right, drop 97 fade." It was our only pass pattern longer than ten yards so it wasn't a surprise, but my number had been called.

I remember wondering why the cornerback was playing so close to the line of scrimmage. Doesn't he know the situation? Sure enough, when I turned on my 14-year-old afterburners, I got behind him. Strangely enough, the throw was a good one. My mind's eye still looks through the plastic visor on my helmet that protected my glasses and sees that ball, twisting, fluttering, descending.

It hit me in the breadbasket, slid right through my arms and harmlessly landed on the turf. Game over.

As with Thomas, I don't know if I would have scored. In Mike's case, I think the safety coming over had the angle on him and would have gotten him out of bounds. But if you make that catch, you have a chance. Maybe we take Purdue to overtime. Maybe I become a Caballero football hero.

We'll never know.

It's a good thing Cats have nine lives because a little piece of me dies every time I watch this team. But I wouldn't want to live with any other team.


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