As college football kicked off this weekend, I had a realization while watching several games that I hadn’t seen so clearly before. When you go back and look at key moments in the game, the ones where momentum shifts and fortunes swap, they seem so small at the time, yet they change the entire narrative, and eventual outcome of the game.
For example, Clemson in the first half against Georgia Tech was only up 7 points at the time and it was third and long. Momentum surrounded Georgia Tech as Clemson’s quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei, threw to the wide receiver slanting towards the sideline. Pass interference was called. First down, 15 yards advanced, and a renewed, refreshed Clemson offense went down the field and scored. Another third down play that comes to mind is when Uiagalelei was about to get sacked, yet he maneuvered brilliantly to dish the ball to a receiver who ended up advancing enough for a first down. Or when the nucleus of Georgia Tech’s defense, Charlie Thomas was ejected for targeting. These three pivotal plays were game defining moments.
Several keystone moments wrote the headline(s) of the Instant Classic LSU-FSU game: a blocked extra point, a dropped punt return, and a fumble on the 1 yard line all occurred in the last 3 minutes of the game. Those plays are obvious. This post is about the less obvious ones. The plays that the process of practice plans to protect. The lowered head that triggers the targeting call, or the could-be wrapped arm that prevents the quarterback from flipping the ball, or the discipline required not to hold the wide receiver when it’s third and long are all examples of how football (and life) is truly a game of inches.
As college football season kicks off, few sports display the broad orchestration of a team required to execute a play while simultaneously showcasing the nearly microscopic misses or gains potentially affecting the final outcome of the game. The pitcher-batter dual of baseball, while captivating, doesn’t do it. The more frenetic soccer match is too fluid. Tennis and golf are too individual. Football is like nothing else.