With Victory Nearly in Hand, Allen’s Fumble is Wrenching
For Stanford’s Jeff Allen, the agony of defeat was more than just a phrase from the old “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” TV show.
It was real, harsh, gut-wrenching. The hurt, the disbelief was unmistakable.
For the Cardinal wide receiver, it was all right there, some 45 minutes after the game, in the swollen, reddened eyes and the blank look of a person who had just witnessed a head-on collision. If there had been a mother nearby, anybody’s mother, she would have put her arms around him, taken him off to some corner and offered a shoulder to sob on.
The crushing disappointment of athletic competition was visited on Allen with a little more than four minutes left in Saturday’s Stanford-UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl. His team, 1-6 this season and, to this point, mostly serving as a punching bag for opponents, was marching for a potential winning touchdown against the national powerhouse Bruins, 6-0 and ranked No. 2.
On the previous series, UCLA had finally taken the lead, 28-24. And still, Stanford wouldn’t quit, wouldn’t recognize that enough was enough, that its earlier 24-14 lead already had earned the proverbial moral victory and that these Bruins were headed for a national championship, not an embarrassment at the hands of a team that already had lost to, my goodness, San Jose State.
Nope, there was Cardinal quarterback Todd Husak, a youngster from Long Beach who hadn’t even gotten a nod of recognition from Bruin recruiters--"I would have liked to have just been romanced a little bit,” he said--still back there, still firing.
There he was, the jilted, ready to ruin an entire season for the Bruins. And, the play originating from the UCLA 27, Husak had Allen open over the middle, where he got the ball to him in perfect shape.
Allen, the unlikeliest of heroes, the fifth-year senior from Olympia, Wash., who had started his career as a defensive back and hung around mostly as a special teams’ player, was suddenly a step away from creating the biggest upset in college football this season.
Allen, a 22-year-old who is painfully shy with the media, who had a total of seven catches all season before he latched on to Husak’s throw this time, was suddenly a step away from being the star of every TV highlight film and every sports section in the country.
And it all disintegrated, right there at the two-yard line.
UCLA’s Marques Anderson, who had been injured and wasn’t even supposed to play much Saturday, seemed to come out of nowhere and yank the ball from Allen’s hands. It bounced into the end zone, where the Bruins’ Larry Atkins pounced on it.
For long moments, there was confusion. The first look seemed to have Allen already in the end zone when the ball came loose, meaning touchdown and heroics and one of the wildest Stanford celebrations in football in a long time. But the officials were conferring, not making the touchdown signal.
And then the replay showed what the officials soon ruled. Anderson’s pickpocket tackle had loosened the ball at about the two. Atkins’ recovery meant a touchback and UCLA’s ball on the 20.
Cinderella’s slipper had come off just before midnight.
Afterward, the press was gentle with Allen. To be otherwise would have been criminal.
Between long, painful pauses, Allen said that, yes, the officials have to call things the way they see them; yes, he was surprised when Anderson came out of nowhere; yes, all he had seen at that moment was the safety to his right; and no, the play had been nothing special, just a route that was supposed to split the defense and put him open over the middle.
Soon, there was silence from the questioners. There were probably more angles to pursue, but Allen’s face had all the answers. Thankfully, nobody asked him how he felt. Nobody needed to.
Then he was gone, puffy eyes searching for a place to hide in the team bus, his only desired companions space and darkness.