The sun is setting behind the hills that ring St. Mary's College in this sleepy hollow in Northern California. A warm November day suddenly turns cool as the St. Mary's football team ends its practice.
Long shadows race across a muddy green field. The sky, caught between day and night, is a purplish color. Silence, broken only by the muffled sounds of weighty men running into one another, prevails.
It's a scene that lingers in the mind. If only Tim Rosenkranz could save the moment, perhaps bottle it and stick in on a shelf someplace safe, keep it to be opened and enjoyed all over again.
That was Wednesday and Rosenkranz had practices Thursday and Friday to look forward to. Now, there's only today, The Little Big Game--St. Mary's vs. Santa Clara--for Bay Area bragging rights. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division II bragging rights, that is.
Time is running out on Rosenkranz's football career. He's fighting it every step of the way, though. It's just what you would expect from Rosenkranz, St. Mary's senior quarterback. This is one battle he won't win.
In Rosenkranz's four seasons at St. Mary's, the former standout at Servite High School has been a fighter, a survivor and eventually a winner beyond a shadow of a doubt. He's a winner when he has had every reason to fail.
"He walked in as a freshman in a T-shirt and shorts with these skinny little arms and I was wondering, 'What the hell did we get here?' " St. Mary's Coach Craig Rundle said.
Tim Rosenkranz, all 5-feet-10, 160 pounds, reporting for practice, sir. That was in 1986.
In 1989, Rosenkranz still stands 5-10, but he's up to a hefty 180. Now, his coach says he's the best Division II quarterback in the country.
With 16 yards today, he'll become the only St. Mary's quarterback to pass for more than 6,000 yards in a career.
He holds 23 school passing records, ranging from the trivial (most plays in game, 52) to the impressive (most career touchdown passes, 51).
He's also a Little All-American candidate, a mortal lock if ever there was one. But the folks who decide these things have ignored St. Mary's in the past. A year ago, the Gaels went 10-0 and didn't rate a spot in the top 20 poll or in the Division II playoffs. If you want to get someone steamed in Moraga, mention that injustice.
So Rosenkranz waits, looking forward to the announcement after the season. And yet he dreads it because it will likely be his final hurrah.
His future in the sport is unclear. The NFL just doesn't call regularly on Division II quarterbacks, though Ken O'Brien of the New York Jets (UC Davis), Neil Lomax of the Phoenix Cardinals (Portland State) and Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins (Grambling) are notable exceptions. And when you're 5-10 and 180, well, your options are limited.
"I don't want to wake up Sunday and stick the cleats in the closet and never break them out again," Rosenkranz said.
"I don't think I've sold myself short. Outside of missing a couple of games with injuries, I've done a lot. We've done a lot of singing after games."
"The alma mater, in the shower, after wins."
With a 29-11 record (6-3 this season) the past four years, the sounds of victory, with Rosenkranz leading the chorus, have often floated across the St. Mary's campus on Saturday afternoons.
Certainly there were only a few people who would have expected such things when Rosenkranz was at Servite. Was there anything to suggest Rosenkranz could make it as a college quarterback?
"No," Servite Coach Larry Toner said. "Because he had just average talent at the time. There's no way of predicting. He had great work ethic and honed what was given to him by the Almighty."
As a senior, his only season as a starter, Rosenkranz passed for 2,550 yards and 25 touchdowns. The honors rolled in--all-Southern Section, Angelus League MVP--but the recruiters stayed away.
Cal State Long Beach and Nevada Reno expressed only mild interest, so Rosenkranz settled on St. Mary's, where his friend and former Servite teammate, Doug Beuerlein, was playing.
A small quarterback at a small college. It fit.
Three games into his freshman season, Rosenkranz got the call. St. Mary's was hopelessly beaten. Rundle figured this was no time to get the starting quarterback injured and he sent Rosenkranz in to mop up in the final five minutes. The skinny kid was impressive, throwing two touchdown passes.
A week later, St. Mary's was down, 23-0, with a minute left in the third quarter. Sixteen minutes later, the Gaels had won, 24-23, and had a new quarterback.
The comebacks haven't stopped.
Rosenkranz separated his right shoulder and missed the final two games of his freshman season. Doctors said he'd miss four weeks, but he was back in two, throwing on the sidelines before the final game.
As a sophomore, the Santa Clara defense knocked him unconscious.
He returned later in the game to throw three touchdown passes and run for a fourth score as St. Mary's won, 31-25.
As a junior, he dislocated his left shoulder and again the doctors said it would be at least a month before he could play again. He was back in 10 days.
"Doctors have to be conservative," he said. "You only have so many games to play. I had to get out there and play."
And so he did, leading St. Mary's to come-from-behind victories in the final three games as the Gaels finished 10-0, the school's first undefeated season. An impressive record when you consider that, except for a 16-year layoff in the 1950s and '60s, the school has been playing since 1892 and beat Texas Tech, 20-13, in the 1938 Cotton Bowl.
Victory No. 10 came against Santa Clara, which made it all the sweeter.
St. Mary's trailed, 24-20, and had the ball at its 25 with with two minutes left. Rosenkranz drove the Gaels down the field, picking apart the Santa Clara defense.
With the ball at the 10-yard line and less than a minute left, the Broncos blitzed Rosenkranz. He ran away from it, to his left, not the best place for a right-handed quarterback to run.
Nearing the left sideline, he threw across the field to tight end Jon Braff for a touchdown. St. Mary's went on to win, 27-24.
Then, playing against Cal Lutheran this season, he suffered two fractured vertebrae.
No telling what Rosenkranz would have done if he had not taken a helmet in the back against Cal Lutheran. He had completed 12 of 14 passes for 128 yards before being injured. He missed two games, including a 30-3 loss to Humboldt State, before returning to face San Francisco State.
Rosenkranz completed 17 of 30 for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-3 victory.
"You see that little twinkle in his eye when things are tough," Rundle said. "He enjoys the challenge of doing things that aren't supposed to be done."
Rundle's eyes twinkle when he says that.
If Rundle has one wish, it would be for people to stop judging Rosenkranz by his size. "If people didn't measure things in physical size all the time, if you just looked at his production, it would be different," Rundle said.
Rosenkranz can only dream about being taller. "Why can't I be 6-3?" he wonders. "Why do I have to be 5-10? If I'm 6-2, I'm getting ready for draft day. (But) I think I've made the most out of being 5-10."