Moment of the Year: NCAA Football
Texas Tech students camped out for a week to grab the best seats in the house for the biggest game in their school's history, a Nov. 1 showdown between top-ranked, undefeated Texas and the seventh-ranked undefeated Red Raiders.
With the game coming a day after Halloween, the kids in the front row transformed themselves into replicas of Heath Ledger's Joker -- black body paint, white face paint and that creepy, smeared-red smile. One of them had brought a dry-erase board with an extremely clever and ultimately prophetic message: "There's No Cure for Crabs."
The students would have a bird's eye view several hours later when Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech's All-America receiver and subject of the aforementioned sign, delivered what was unquestionably the moment of the year in college football.
With just eight seconds remaining, his team trailing 33-32 and two sets of national-title hopes hanging in the balance, Crabtree raced down the right sideline, caught a perfectly placed fade pass from QB Graham Harrell at about the 5-yard-line, shook off Longhorns cornerback Curtis Brown's grasp just inches from going out of bounds and dashed into the end zone for the game-winning 28-yard touchdown.
Almost as soon as Crabtree had crossed the goal line, the jubilant Texas Tech students came pouring on to the turf -- but there was still one second remaining. They would wind up prematurely rushing the field twice more, incurring penalties that forced the Red Raiders to kick off from their own 7-yard-line, before the gun finally sounded on a 39-33 Texas Tech victory and the celebration began en masse.
But who could blame them for their giddy exuberance? While football has served as the fabric of West Texas culture for more than a century, never before had Lubbock played host to such a nationally prominent game. In the span of seven seconds, Harrell and Crabtree had lifted the Red Raiders to their first-ever victory over a No. 1 team and first 9-0 record since 1938.
Meanwhile, 12.2 million viewers at home -- the second-highest audience for any game all season -- presumably watched with dropped jaws as ABC showed replay after replay of the remarkable Harrell-to-Crabtree play. It did not happen by accident. "We practice [the fade] every day in practice," said Harrell. "One time I [was on] the StairMaster," said Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, "and I watched them [out the window] do it for over an hour. I don't know how many routes you can run in a hour, but that's a lot of routes."
As it turned out, neither team wound up playing for the national championship. Oklahoma's 65-21 drubbing of Texas Tech three weeks later helped force a controversial three-way tie atop the Big 12 South between the Sooners, Longhorns and Red Raiders, from which Oklahoma emerged with the highest BCS ranking.The Sooners will face Florida on Jan. 8, 2009, in Miami. Perhaps that game will go down as an all-time classic and trump all memories of the regular season preceding it.
As for as the best moment of 2008, however, it was literally a dream come true. "I always dream the play in my head," said Crabtree, "... but it really happened."