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Kicked When He's Down

Brotzman's misses hurt Boise's BCS hopes, but what really hurt was the nastiness some fans directed toward a player who is just a college kid

December 01, 2010|BILL PLASCHKE

I don't cheer for a team. I don't cheer for a player. I cheer for a position.

I cheer for the college kicker lining up for a game-winning field goal.

It doesn't matter who he is. It doesn't matter where he plays. It doesn't even matter if the field goal would make my local team lose.

I always cheer for the college kicker to be the hero, because I'm cheering against the undeserved pain he would suffer by being the goat.

I'm cheering against the failure that will unfairly burden a college student as he staggers back to his dorm on a Saturday night. I'm cheering against the misplaced responsibility felt by a kid on a $40,000 scholarship who has just cost his school millions.

So, yeah, Friday night, I was cheering myself hoarse for the kid from Boise State.

You saw that, right? The best game of the college football season? The most wrenching finish in many seasons?

After a dramatic long pass in the final seconds put America's Broncos in position to steal a win from Nevada and essentially clinch a bid in at least the Rose Bowl, senior kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt wide right with two seconds left.

Then, in the overtime, Brotzman pulled a 29-yard attempt wide left to set the stage for Nevada's game-winning field goal, its 34-31 victory breaking Boise State's 24-game win streak and ending the BCS dream for America's team.

I was cheering for Brotzman, then I was gasping for him, and then, finally, I said a little prayer for him, this sad-eyed, scruffy-faced former non-scholarship athlete who may have just participated in the costliest choke in the history of collegiate sports.

Because Boise State plays in a lightly regarded conference with no political safety net, the Broncos fell from college football's Granddaddy to its Third Cousin, from the Rose Bowl (or possibly even the BCS title game) to probably the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, losing as much as $5 million in the process.

Has there ever been a more expensive flub in the history of college athletics?

It was so bad, Brotzman's high school coach immediately texted him with the only words he could summon.

"I love you, man," read the simple text from Mike Virden, the guy who convinced Brotzman to quit soccer and play football in his junior year at Meridian High near Boise.

When Brotzman phoned Virden the next day, even a guy who had been coaching football for 20 years couldn't figure out a more elaborate pep talk.

"It was so tough, there was not one tangible thing I could say that would make it any better, nothing," Virden said. "We just kind of talked around it because, really, there was nothing that could have helped."

It was so bad, Nick Veldhouse, a Boise insurance agent who has missed only two home games in 18 years, still doesn't believe it.

"Honestly, I swear, that first kick was good," he said.

I actually agree with him. The ball sailed over the top of a goalpost that is shorter than those in the NFL and some other college fields. I think if the goalposts were higher, the ball would have at least struck the right post, and who knows what would have happened?

"I still can't believe it," Veldhouse said. "Honestly, I don't think anyone around here really believes it yet."

The game ended, and Nevada fans rushed the field, and Boise State players trudged off with vacant stares, and all I could think was, what's next for the kid?

"I don't know why some things happen," said Virden, "but you've got to find a way to get up every day and keep going, right?"

When Brotzman woke the next day, it was to death threats and cyber bullies. The Ada County Sherriff's office in Boise reporting harassing messages were left on the voice mail of a person believed to be a Brotzman relative. Facebook pages began appearing with insults and invective.

"That game really shook this town up, some people were really mad, and part of me can understand that," Veldhouse said.

But then, in this world of screwed-up sports priorities, the strangest thing happened. Somebody had the nerve to create a Facebook page called "The Bronco Nation Loves Kyle Brotzman." And somebody had the nerve to leave a nice note on it. And another. And another.

At last count, the nice messages were overflowing and the numbers -- 30,695 liked this page -- were astounding.

Read one: "God bless you and protect you from the crazies. Keep your head up and great kicking foot high."

Read another: "I'm sorry kid. It was one kick. You'll be remembered for way more than just that."

Yes, it turns out, they remembered.

They remembered that Brotzman is the NCAA's active career scoring leader, and has scored more points than any other player in Broncos history. They remembered that Brotzman was the punter who faked the punt and threw the 30-yard pass to Kyle Efaw that led to Boise State's victory over Texas Christian in last year's Fiesta Bowl.

Nevada fans remembered, and USC fans remembered, and Tennessee fans remembered, folks from all over the country putting down their colors and opening their arms and making you realize that, while coaches and administrators and journalists often forget, most fans get it.

It's college. It's an education. So the kid flunked a test. So what? It's not his life. It's how he learns about his life.

Brotzman has done only one television interview since the misses, and was not available for this column, but here's guessing he'll be fine by Saturday.

It'll be senior day at Bronco Stadium against Utah State, he will be introduced separately with the other seniors, and where I was once wondering about the boos, now I can't even imagine the cheers.

"He may be a screw-up, but he's our screw-up," said Veldhouse.

College football may be nuts, but it's a good kind of nuts.


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