Classic 'Cats

With the success of last weekend’s ‘Cats football game, our team lived to see the playoffs. … And Phoebe wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

While Kates stayed home to clean for our Thanksgiving company, Phoebe wanted to travel to the game with me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this scenario 10 years ago, and this father couldn’t be more proud.

About the football. … This was week one of the playoffs. After an unbelievable start, our team squeaked in as the fifth of six seeds in our region. It appears they’ll play all of their games on the road. If they win all four, we’ve got a ticket to play in the national championship game for the sixth time in seven years.

We’ve got a long way to go, but some might say we have a team of destiny on our hands. They lost two games this season -- by a total of six points. Both were the result of a fourth quarter comeback by the opponents. … But this team has a way of playing at another level in the playoffs. No matter the deficit they will find a way to overcome it. And don't forget this season has an added meaning.

This weekend we were going against our bitter rivals to the south. Think of it as our version of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry in college basketball. We’re close in proximity and we hate losing to each other. One of our two regular season losses was to them. ... Just walking on to their campus today made my skin crawl.

Pheebs and I arrived at the stadium and met friends Mallory and Matt at the gates. Our team’s fans had already packed the sideline bleachers, so we ended up in a set of bleachers behind one of the end zones … I bought Phoebe a box of popcorn, which I think is the real reason she loves going to the games, and we set in for what was sure to be a classic.

It started rough for the ’Cats. As in ugly rough. … On the first play from scrimmage, one of our guys fumbled a lateral that led to a score. Then, an interception that led to a 58-yard-field goal. Then, a second interception for a 55-yard touchdown return. And -- bam! -- our team was down 0-16 just four minutes into the game.

At halftime, we trailed 7-22. … You could say it was déjà vu. Last year, we trailed the same team 0-17 at halftime in the first round of the playoffs. We won that game 28-24.

Anyone who’s come to know our team as I have over the years knows it’s not over until the final second ticks off the clock. In our fans’ minds, we always knew we would win that game today.

So in the second half, our boys tightened their play and -- voilà -- we trailed 27-29 at the end of the third quarter. … At this point, it’s worth noting that our marching band plays the fight song after each of our scores. After one of the scores, I got distracted but snapped out of it to catch Phoebe, who never ceases to amaze me, shouting the university cheer that comes at the end of the song. She knew exactly what to do when she heard that song.

Closing in on eight minutes left in the game, our kicker missed a 26-yard field goal into the wind that would have given us our first lead in the game. … But in the wake of our letdown, something happened and the next thing any of us saw was one of our defensive linemen carrying the football into the end zone for what proved to be the game-winning score. It turned out the opposing quarterback fumbled the snap, and a two-point conversion put us up for good, 35-29.

The defense held on. Time ran out. And our students stormed the field when it was over.

As the celebration settled, I boosted Phoebe on to my shoulders and we joined the team and remaining fans on the field for the customary post-game gathering.

My friend Gina sent me a text that read, “That my friend is closure.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Division I can deal with it’s money-grubbing corporations and host all of the dot-com bowl games it can come up with. It’s a travesty that Division I doesn’t have a playoff system, and it’s reason numero uno that I, try as I might, just can’t take Division I football seriously. D-II is where it’s at, my friends.

Back at our car, I flipped on the radio for the post-game show and marveled with our team’s analysts at yet another classic ‘Cats comeback.

It took us the entire post-game show to get out of the parking lot. … When it was over, I honored Phoebe’s request for the “I Walked By and You Caught My Eye” song. … She was snoring in her car seat a few minutes later.

Another good day.

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