You know that old cliche about winning and losing, and how something else is more important?
If you’re Wyoming, you don’t want to hear about it. Especially when tiny you from the Western Something-or-other Conference is thrown in against Iowa from that CBS affiliate known as the Big 10.
You know, nobody is going to remember how you played the game .
“Not to cut down the Holiday Bowl’s hospitality,” said Wyoming tackle Tony Kapushion, “but it seemed like all week, it was Iowa, Iowa, Iowa. Everytime something was announced, Iowa was announced first. Everybody saw it. Everybody felt it. It seemed like Iowa had priority on us.
“We needed to show them something. We needed to earn their respect.”
So in this 10th Holiday Bowl Wednesday night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, Wyoming whipped up on them. They outgained, outhustled, outfought and outplayed them.
And they lost, 20-19. And now throughout the nation, from announcers and newspapers and wherever they talk about this game, Iowa will still be mentioned first.
And this morning, Wednesday night’s best team doesn’t have enough fingers to count the hurt.
“All week long they looked down their noses at us, Big 10, big deal, all that. We wanted so bad to show them something,” said defensive tackle Pat Rabold softly. “But only one thing would have showed a team like Iowa something. A win . And we couldn’t do it.”
Wyoming outgained Iowa by nearly 100 yards--332-237. They completed seven more passes, and had two more first downs, and had one more sack.
They had a 12-0 lead, then a 19-7 lead. Their defense allowed just one good drive, one offensive touchdown. Yet the game ended with kicker Greg Worker standing alone on the sidelines, tee in hand, confused, enraged, saying over and over, “A dirty shame. A dirty, dirty shame. Just a dirty shame.”
With 46 seconds remaining, Worker’s 52-yard winning field goal attempt had been blocked by Iowa cornerback Merton Hanks, who someone forgot to block. Then a final 50-yard attempt had been aborted when center Grant Salisbury was called for tripping a Hawkeye, nullifying a 25-yard pass play that put the Cowboys in that position.
Two plays that quickly told the story of a game.
“You know, I haven’t a kicked blocked all year, not one,” said Worker. “And then I should have had one more try, we were ready to go, and the referees have to make that call. A disappointing call.”
For the record, Salisbury admitted he stuck out his hand and tripped an Iowa defender on a pass from Wyoming quarterback Craig Burnett to flanker James Loving: “Yeah, I probably did, and it was probably a bad thing,” he said.
But for the record, the Cowboys agree the bigger crime was that it shouldn’t have come to that.
“They get a blocked punt and an interception return, and that’s it,” said end Anthony Sargent pleadingly. “Without that, we blow them out. Just blow them out. It’s hard to come so hard and fall so short.”
“They know we should have won,” Kapushion said. “But I guess now it doesn’t matter.”
Something Wyoming accomplished Wednesday night should matter.
The first quarter should matter: Wyoming didn’t get their initial first down until 16 seconds were left.
On their first possession defensive tackle Jeff Knapton forced Iowa quarterback Chuck Hartlieb into a bad pass, takling him in the process. On their second possession, defensive end Dave Edeen hit Hartlieb for a 13-yard sack. On their fourth possesion, Rabold had a five-yard sack.
The second quarter should matter: Wyoming forced Hartlieb into a rare intentional grounding on a third-down play, and pressured kicker Rob Houghtlin into a rare miss of a 30-yard attempt, ensuring Wyoming with a 19-7 halftime lead.
Then they started the second half by forcing Iowa’s Ron Harmon to fumble through the end zone and kill a 79-yard Iowa drive.
Then came the bad pass by Wyoming quarterback Craig Burnett that Iowa cornerback Antony Wright took back 33 yards for a touchdown to make it 19-14 with 14:29 left to play.
“The pass was on target, I just got it up and it sailed on me,” said Burnett.
And then came Iowa’s winning drive, on their next possession, 10 plays, 86 yards, and a single big play that Wyoming will never forget.
Trying to disguise their deep coverage, both Cowboy cornerback Reggie Berry and safety Mike Hill played close to the line on a second and six from the Iowa 32. The Hawkeyes were not fooled, with Hartlieb throwing deep to Travis Watkins, who simply had to outrun the two backs for a 48-yard pass play to the Cowboy 20. Six plays later, Iowa scored to win.
“I turned around and saw him run past me and knew, no way they were throwing to him,” Hill said. “We were forced to sprint to catch up, and couldn’t.”
And they will enter next season still feeling like they need to catch up, with teams like Iowa, with feelings like respect.
“I hate games like this,” said Salisbury. “You play your guts out. And you get nothing.”