If we were to stop and reflect on some of the greatest Super Bowls ever, we could not ignore the 42nd edition of the big game when Eli Manning and the New York Giants put together a last-minute drive to shock the football world, ending the historic, undefeated season of the powerful New England Patriots. University of Phoenix Stadium was the site and it hosted a classic – but it was not the first time that suburban Glendale’s state-of-the-art facility held a game of such magnitude.
Over a year before Super Bowl XLII, University of Phoenix Stadium played host to the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, 2007. The game traditionally pitted two of the top schools in all of college football against each other – and this, while it didn’t look so glamorous on paper, turned out to be one for the ages.
It was the heavily-favoured Oklahoma Sooners up against the dark horse Boise State Broncos. Prior to this game, all that stood out for Boise State’s football team was their intriguing, yet odd-looking, blue grass on their home field in the Idaho capital. After the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, the Broncos were remembered for more than just the “Smurf Turf.”
If the Broncos wanted an upset, they had to start quickly – and they did, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. But the Sooners – the pick of many to win the national championship – cut the lead to four before Boise State made it 21-10 before halftime.
In the third quarter, Broncos safety Marty Tadman intercepted a Paul Thompson pass and returned it for a touchdown. Just like that, it was 28-10. But reality quickly set in.
Thanks to an Adrian Peterson touchdown run, Oklahoma ended the third quarter down 28-17. Then, in the fourth, the Sooners kicked a field goal and scored a touchdown (two-point conversion was good) to tie the game.
A little later, the Sooners took the lead when Marcus Walker intercepted a Jared Zabransky pass to take it to the end zone. For the first time all night, Oklahoma had the lead and, for Boise State, it seemed to have been at the worst possible time. But then, it came time for this contest to turn into the classic it has been known for ever since.
In the dying seconds of the game and Boise State faced with a 4th-and-long situation, quarterback Jared Zabransky snapped the ball, went into the pocket and quickly gazed the field in front of him before spotting wideout Drisan James. James then carried the ball and just as he was approaching the first-down marker, tossed it to a surging Jerard Rabb who – with the entire Sooners’ defense thrown right off-guard – took it 35 yards, scampering down the field and diving into the endzone.
With no time left on the clock, this barnburner was tied.
Off to overtime Boise State and Oklahoma went. But it was the Sooners who scored first, thanks to a 25-yard run by Adrian Peterson. 42-35.
But on Boise State’s turn, they were again down to their final down when they pulled off some magic. With Zabransky in motion, it was Vinny Perretta who took the snap. He then found Derek Schouman in the end zone for the score. The Broncos just needed to kick the ball through the uprights and this epic would continue. But then…
The Boise State coaching staff wanted to keep playing with fire so they kept the offense on the field. If the Broncos couldn’t convert, they would lose. But if they did, they would become the Fiesta Bowl champions.
Zabransky took the snap in the shotgun and, coercing the entering Oklahoma D to his right, the QB pulled off one of the oldest tricks in the book – the Statue of Liberty play – faking a throw while hiding the ball behind his back. Running back Ian Johnson then grabbed the ball and ran to wide-open paydirt to end one of the greatest games – collegiate or professional – I have ever seen.
Boise State had pulled off the miracle and to make matters even better, Ian Johnson then proposed to his girlfriend (a Broncos cheerleader) on national television.
For lack of a better term, this classic was almost akin to a Russian novel. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was filled with plot twists, character development, an epic climax and an exquisite denouement that reignited my love for college football. In fact, when friends ask if this game restored my faith in the power of sports in general, much less college football, I give them the same thing that Ian Johnson’s girlfriend gave him upon said proposal: an emphatic “yes!”
*Section photo credit to AP Photo/Charles Krupa; Featured photo (above) credit t0 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images