Championships happen and get recorded for posterity.
The trophy takes its place of honor in a glass case somewhere beneath a spotlight and is treated with due reverence in perpetuity. They hang banners, hand out rings and add names to the Hall of Fame.
And over time the memories begin to get a little dusty.
And then there are those moments that imprint themselves on your memory and stay there, intact and complete.
The finish of Eastern Washington’s Football Championship Series semifinal with Youngstown State is one of those snatches that will stand the test of time and defy the diminishing returns of memory.
Wherever you were when you saw it. In the stands. On a highlight show – and it made ALL the highlight shows. And if your memory gets dusty, you only need a Google search to be fully refreshed because it will live forever on the internet.
You don’t need to remember the whole game. You don’t need to remember all those touchdowns that came before the one with a single second left on the clock.
That final catch says it all, for good and bad.
To borrow a quote from the movie “Tin Cup,” “It was, well, it’s immortal!”
It’s rare that a game can be boiled down to a single play, but that’s what happened Saturday – and it is the only time the word “boiled” can be applied to that afternoon in Cheney.
But it happens.
Want to know about Super Bowl XLIX? All you really need to remember is that last pass by Russell Wilson – the one that was picked off at the goal line to give New England the win.
Remember who won the 1986 World Series? No? Remember Bill Buckner and that ground ball that bounced between his legs?
How about the 1967 NFL Championship Game? Remember that game? Bart Starr’s famous quarterback sneak behind Sandpoint’s Jerry Kramer to beat the Dallas Cowboys ring a bell?
To be honest, those Eastern alumni among us will long remember the details. How the Eagles had a lead and how Youngstown State rallied. And how Eastern rallied one more time to take the lead. And then there’s that catch – a catch that had to involve either Velcro or Harry Potter’s magic wand.
We were ready to dial up our travel agent and book tickets to Frisco, Texas, until that last pass, right?
But for the rest of the sporting world, that last play will live by itself, but it will stay alive for as long as the internet survives. It will be one of those moments that lives beyond the individual games from which they are spawned.
It joins some stellar, even infamous company.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who was at the 1929 Rose Bowl, but what happened that day is still a legend. Folks don’t remember who played that game (Cal-Georgia Tech), but they remember that Roy Riegels scooped up a fumble and ran the wrong way. It’s considered the greatest blunder in sports history.
What do you think of when someone mentions “The Immaculate Reception”?
They remember the ball caroming off a defender and getting plucked out of the air by Franco Harris, who ran for the game-winning touchdown. Only trivia fans will tell you that Terry Bradshaw threw the pass and that Oakland’s Jack Tatum hit John Fuqua as the ball arrived.
There isn’t a baseball fan out there who hasn’t heard about “The Catch.” They’ve seen the pictures of a young Willie Mays, his back to home plate, making a miraculous over-the-shoulder catch. The facts that it was Game One of the 1954 World Series and the ball was hit by Cleveland’s Vic Wertz get lost.
As the 2016 college football season unfolded, Eastern Washington showed itself to be a team of destiny. A season-opening win over Washington State finally gave Eagle alumni an ace to play on those clappy, happy Cougars. And then it kept on giving.
A second national championship started, as it always does, as a far-away dream and steadily grew to be something tangible you could almost touch.
And then, immortality struck.
It’s enough to salve the wounds of losing that are only now beginning to thaw from an afternoon in that deep freeze known as Roos Field.
Five years from now folks will be hard-pressed to remember who won the FCS championship – they’ll just know, for a change, it wasn’t North Dakota State – but they will remember how a shot at the title was snatched away from Eastern Washington in the incredibly inappropriately nicknamed “Inferno.”
They won’t remember the name of the receiver (Kevin Rader) – he will forever be immortalized as “that guy.” They will just remember the football stuck to the back of the defender the way a party balloon sticks to the wall when it’s built up a supply of static cling.
Our Eagles had a fantastic season, and the way it ended will live forever.
Just not the way we would have liked.
Steve Christilaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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