SANTA ANA — The luckiest man in college football crapped out Saturday afternoon, which again proves one of two things:
1. The breaks even out in the end.
2. Gene Murphy should've kept Mike Pringle in the New Mexico State game.
Pringle, the only Cal State Fullerton running back to win the lottery this year, also had been the second running back to rush for 357 yards in a single Division I-A game.
And, he was the first to rush for 352, get pulled from the game, brood about the missed opportunity for 24 hours and then--discovery of discoveries--learn that he had become the co-record holder by way of a statistician's error.
\o7 Five more yards? Let's see. Yeah, yeah. Found them . . . right here.\f7
Mike Pringle can't speak highly enough about the science of game-film analysis.
So, for five glorious days, Pringle shared the same line in the NCAA record book with Washington State's Rueben Mayes, ahead of O.J. Simpson and Tony Dorsett and every other major-college runner who ever carried a football. For five glittering days, a Titan was on top of the world.
Then came the public-address announcement that boomed ominously over Santa Ana Stadium Saturday with 11 minutes left in Fullerton's 31-13 victory over Long Beach State.
Anthony Thompson of Indiana had just rushed for 377 yards against Wisconsin.
Pringle had lost the record. And he hadn't even gotten around to phoning all his friends yet.
The Titans were preparing to punt when Pringle heard the word. As soon as the tailback hit the Fullerton sideline, he began shaking his head. A couple of teammates shook his hand. Linebacker Jamal Jones came over and gave Pringle a sympathetic pat on the shoulder pads.
"They kept telling me, 'You never know what might've happened last week,' " Pringle said. "I congratulate Anthony Thompson. He probably stayed in the whole game. It looks like he did.
"You never know what would've happened if I'd played the whole game."
Pringle said he hated to bring up the New Mexico State mess again, but . . .
"Again, it makes me wonder," he said. "\o7 Only if . . .
\f7 "It's kind of sad. I do my best to get the record and didn't get the chance to do more. Evidently, (Thompson) stayed in and played to the finish. I didn't stay in and play to the finish. That's some consolation, I guess."
Thompson was given the ball 52 times against Wisconsin. Pringle had 31 carries against New Mexico State--and sat out the last five plays of a 45-10 Fullerton victory.
Pringle averages 5.8 yards a rushing attempt. Give him the ball four times and who knows? Maybe Thompson would be waiting for next week.
Murphy, cast as a national villain until last week's game films came through, wasn't thrilled when Thompson dredged up the Pringle controversy.
"Did he (break the record)?" Murphy said, feigning ignorance. "I'm sorry. I don't feel good about it.
"I'm just happier than hell to beat Long Beach and to get the chance to finish the season with a winning record. I don't want to talk about numbers or records or anything. I'm more concerned about football players than damn numbers."
Gradually, Murphy mellowed out. As Rocky Palamara, the Fullerton wide receiver who had just set two school pass-catching records, wandered by, Murphy broke into a grin and shouted:
"Rocky! I'm happy for you! I'm happy for your record! I love you!"
Tension relaxed, Murphy was ready to broach the Pringle matter for the umpteenth time.
"I felt bad for the kid, but my reaction was: If (the New Mexico State game) had never happened at all and the same situation happened again, I'd do it the same way.
"Since I've been at Fullerton, we've averaged 3.8 home games a year. We've had very few times to get (reserve) players into games in front of our home fans, because we were never drastically ahead or behind. Last week, I had the chance to play some people.
"And when we substitute, we're not just substituting one player at a time. We're bringing in linemen and wide receivers. I didn't want to keep Pringle in there (with inexperienced blockers) and blow him up. He's our money man."
Saturday, however, Murphy kept Pringle on the field through Fullerton's final series. Pringle wound up with 38 carries and 269 yards--the final 60 yards coming after the Thompson announcement.
"That made me run a little bit harder," Pringle said. "I was a little winded at the time, but when I heard that, it made me pick it up another notch. It kind of fired me up.
"If Anthony Thompson had broken the record the quarter before," he added with a smile, "I might've got him again."
One record lost, Pringle turned his thoughts to another. In 1978, Obie Graves set the Fullerton single-season rushing mark with 1,789 yards. Pringle has rushed for 1,609 yards this season. He needs 180 yards against San Jose State next Saturday to catch Graves.
"I'm really pumped up about it," Pringle said. "It's within my grasp. Hopefully, I can stay healthy and run hard."
And stay in the game.
"Oh, we'll keep him in there," Murphy deadpanned. "I'll call up to the press box to see if I have permission to keep him in."
Until then, we await further word from the Fullerton film room. You never know. There still could be 20 extra yards lurking around in that New Mexico State game.