100% Cotten: Staying the Course

Sept. 24, 2007

I'm like you. I thought I heard the fat lady, too. I could have sworn she was warming up.

The recent Wake Forest - Maryland game is one of those contests that, in 20 years, 67,000 people will profess to have attended and watched to the bitter end. In reality, fewer were there in the fourth quarter than in the first. Count two of my dearest friends among those who must have had something better to do than watch the Deacs rewrite the history books for the second season in a row against the Maryland Terrapins.

And Yogi Berra was right. This one wasn't over until it was over. This one wasn't even over until after it was over. For the first time in five tries the Demon Deacons won a game in overtime, and I, for one, am glad I stuck around to see it.

Of course I'm paid to stay, but in 28 years of watching college sports for a living I've learned to always sit on the edge of my seat. Because if you think it can't happen - it most likely is about to. And if you aren't there it will happen - and you'll miss it. And regret it.

I almost missed it in the early 70's at a game in Knoxville as Tennessee faced Clemson at Neyland Stadium. 100,000 fans will swear they were there, and at kickoff that was true. But as time began to wind down and it appeared that the Tigers would beat the Vols, thousands of fans began streaming for the exits. My friend and I were among them, but as we got to the point of no return I stopped. We were halfway into the tunnel when I just had to turn around and go back. I just couldn't leave.

There were only seconds left and almost half the field to go. Tennessee's quarterback was Condredge Holloway, the "Artful Dodger" they called him. He started the play with a roll to his right but found nothing and nobody to throw to. The Tigers got pressure in Holloway's face, and he started to turn back and peel to his left and head the other way. One Tiger defender dove and got a handful of Holloway's tear-away jersey. But he didn't get Condredge, few ever did. As the youngster from Huntsville, Alabama, bought more time rolling to his left he saw a flash of orange deep and left. He had his chance and he threw it to where only one man could catch it. #89, Larry Sievers, a local kid from Clinton, Tennessee, went up between two Clemson defenders to make the catch and score the touchdown.

Tennessee had won. And Ray Thompson and I saw it. Because we stayed we witnessed one of the greatest plays ever in that huge stadium filled with orange and past moments like that one for those who stuck it out. We saw Condredge Holloway carve another notch in his belt and Larry Sievers become a cult hero. We could have been walking back to the car only to hear a roar and wonder. I recreated that play time and time again on the playgrounds. I can still see it in my mind today. I'm so glad I stayed.

My friends knew something big had happened. They knew it because of the huge eruption from the crowd. They hurried for the car keys so they could turn on the radio and find out what had happened.

The fuse had been lit is what had happened. Alphonso Smith had set a record that can never be broken - only tied. He had raced the length of the field with an interception for a touchdown to erase a standard that had stood for over 50 years. Move over Tommy Whims, you've been Fonsed. I know of two people for sure who could have seen it but didn't. Did you see it?

Did you see the remaining 16:10 of that game that will go down as the second biggest comeback in Wake Forest history - second only to the Deacs' improbable win at Chapel Hill on that fateful day in 2001? Or did your frustration get the best of you? Did getting home early to see the start of the Alabama-Georgia game on television make up for skipping out on the two 80-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter led by Wake's best closer since Dave Bush?

Please don't get me wrong. I'm smiling as I write. I'm not angry. I just can't believe you had a chance to see it all and you gave in to that little voice urging you to get ahead of the traffic. Stay next time. Your team needs you. Tell the voice to relax.

And the singing you hear isn't coming from any fat lady. It's coming from inside the Deacs' locker room. They do that when they win.

Next time, Mark and Beth, just go crazy and stay. You can listen to me on the radio anytime.

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