Mojo is a music magazine published in England, and it’s great for many reasons, one being its year-end review. In addition to the usual best-of listings, Mojo asks various big-name musicians to name the best thing he/she has heard all year. Because I just finished reading the latest Mojo — Tom Petty picked the Leonard Cohen live album — and because we’re coming to the close of 2009, I’ve stolen appropriated the idea for posting purposes.
The best sporting moment I witnessed personally this year had to involve Georgia Tech football virtually by default. The Hawks won a playoff series for the first time in a decade, but it was a crummy playoff series that featured blowouts in every game, Game 7 included. Nothing happened in local college basketball, and Georgia football just posted its worst season under Mark Richt. The Braves and Thrashers didn’t make the playoffs. The Falcons won’t make the playoffs. (Though they did play in a postseason game on Jan. 3, 2009. And lost.)
No, it had to be Tech, and I was sorely tempted to pick the ACC title game in Tampa, which came down to the final minute and involved no punts and much scoring, or Paul Johnson’s go-for-it decision on fourth-and-one in overtime against Wake Forest. As good as those moments were, there was one better.
Oct. 10, 2009: The first half in Doak Campbell Stadium was the longest and wildest in the history of college football. (No? Try finding another like it.) It started with Bobby Bowden, who’d come under fire that week from the chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees, marching onto the field arm in arm with two of his players, the rest of the Seminoles in lined lockstep. It featured nine touchdowns on the first nine possessions — the only time a team didn’t score in the first half was when Tech ran off the final 19 seconds — and ended with FSU leading 35-28.
Oh, yes. The part about it being the longest half ever? There was a 78-minute delay for lightning.
The second half was calmer by comparison — how could it not be? — but culminated with a display of willpower that came to signify this Tech team. (The offensive part, anyway.) With eight minutes remaining and Tech up 42-38, quarterback Josh Nesbitt slung a pitchout wide of Roddy Jones. Nigel Carr, an FSU linebacker, picked up the ball and began to run with it. Nesbitt accosted him and stole it back. Two snaps later he scored the clinching touchdown.
Said Paul Johnson: “That was all No. 9.”
Nesbitt: “I was going to try to tackle the guy, and then I saw the ball. When your back is behind the wall, you’ll do anything.”
On that long night/early morning — the game ended at 12:45 a.m. – it became clear that Tech wasn’t going to be halted shy of an ACC title. There would be subsequent moments when that goal was in doubt, but there was never a doubt about the Jackets’ sense of purpose. (Yes, I know Tech lost to Georgia. Tech is still the champion of a BCS conference.) When I saw Nesbitt re-steal the ball, I pretty much said to myself, “That guy’s not going to let them lose.” And that guy is going to the Orange Bowl.
To call Nesbitt’s play the best I saw in 2009 does it an injustice. It was the best play I’ve seen in several years. The best, I’d say, since David Pollack stole the ball in the end zone in Columbia, S.C. And there was a rain delay that day, too. Coincidence? I think not.