The football floated through the blustering Lincoln wind for what seemed like an eternity, eventually flipping downward and toward Texas' best receiver Limas Sweed. Three red-jerseyed defenders leaped with #4, obstructing the tall receiver from pulling in what would have been a game-winning touchdown. The ball shot down to the ground and bounced straight back up into the arms of a Husker defender. For a brief moment, I thought that the ball had been kicked into opponent's arms - a Matt Davidson Part II or sorts.
But the referees signaled an incompletion, and the body language of the Husker with the football let us all know that the ball had, in fact, hit the ground first. And there we were - fourth down and five yards to goal. Trailing by one point with one chance to take the lead...
And no one, presumably, to do it. With all of Greg Johnson's struggles (a blocked PAT and two missed field goals), the game was anything but in the bag. Tight as a snare drum, I yelled for Mack to bring in freshman Hunter Lawrence. And for a moment, we all thought that he had. Greg Johnson was not trotting out to kick the game winner for Texas. It was a short, skinny player I didn't recognize. "Good," I can recall saying, "we're bringing in Lawrence."
And then we all got the big surprise as Brent Musberger leafed through his notes. "And it'll be... Ryan Bailey coming out for the kick."
Ryan Bailey? First, confusion. Then, desperation. Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, smelling the opportunity for further failure, challenged the ruling on the last play, essentially burning a timeout to ice the walk-on kicker thrust unexpectedly into the snowstorm.
During that seemingly endless wait, as the officials confirmed the previous incompletion, Mack Brown reportedly told young Ryan Bailey that he was the luckiest kid in the world, presented with an opportunity that many dream of, and few achieve. The break ended, the teams lined up, the ball was snapped... and, finally, elation.
It was that kind of day for the Longhorns kicking game on Saturday. Anxiety, frustration, fear, elation. A series of events that perfectly captures why we love this game the way that we do.
And rather than talk about the missed opportunities, the close calls, and the mistakes that were made, let us just, for today, celebrate the great moment of Ryan Bailey - anonymous Friday, hero Saturday.