The years come and go — a reality never more present than on New Year’s Day — and sports continue to amaze us.
The new year of 2015 didn’t waste much time causing our mouths to drop, our brains to explode, our hearts to thump-thump-thump away.
Like a slow-motion train wreck, one calamity after another visited the Baylor Bears at a point in time when 143 different negative events (that’s an unofficial and purposefully large number…) had to line up for them to lose to the Michigan State Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.
Had only 104 of those 143 events taken place, Baylor still would have won by two scores. Had 136 of those events taken place, the Bears still would have escaped with a one-score win and joined TCU as a Big 12 behemoth which passed its postseason test.
99 percent of the time, 100 percent of a true worst-case scenario doesn’t unfold with a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. Blowing an advantage that large — especially with Baylor’s skill, talent and potency — just isn’t going to happen more than once or twice over the course of several years.
This, though, was that one time.
This time, all 143 dreaded events came to life, squeezing all life out of the bewildered bodies of the disbelieving Bears — players and coaches alike.
A block in the back on what would have been a game-sealing pick-six.
A rarer-than-rare offensive face mask on what would have been a gain inside the Michigan State 3, setting up a clinching score in the final minutes.
A false start.
A botched running play.
A blocked field goal.
A return by Michigan State after the blocked field goal.
A failed fourth-and-10 stop by the defense, ceding a 17-yard completion.
A failed third-and-goal stop by the defense, ceding a 10-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds left in regulation.
Two straight sacks allowed on the final possession, when better protection might have offered the possibility of a 30-yard completion and then another subsequent completion for a winning field goal try.
Everything had to go wrong for Baylor, not just some things, in order for the Bears to lose.
There’s a team which knows the feeling of blowing a fourth-quarter lead of at least 20 points — no, not just Baylor.
The Horned Frogs led Baylor, 58-37, in the fourth quarter of that unforgettable October afternoon in Waco nearly three months ago. TCU, too, had to come up short in dozens upon dozens of tipping-point moments to lose that game by three. Baylor had to have everything go right in the final 15 minutes to roll off 24 straight points.
As that football philosopher Charles Dickens was (not) known to have said, “It was the best of blown fourth-quarter leads for Baylor, it was the worst of blown fourth-quarter leads for Baylor.”
You can’t make this stuff up, you can’t try to offer a grand explanation for it all. You can’t lay blame at the feet of Baylor coach Art Briles, who had nothing to do with the block in the back on the pick-six or the offensive face mask, truly the two biggest plays of the day in Arlington, Tex. You can’t really say that Baylor didn’t belong on the field or brought shame to the Big 12. You can’t really say that Michigan State didn’t belong in its own right — not after a brassy, ballsy comeback following three substandard quarters.
This was a completion of a remarkable cosmic convergence. Baylor, the team that produced the most significant fourth-quarter comeback-cum-collapse of the regular season (with Arizona over Cal being the most spectacular comeback), fell victim to what is the most significant fourth-quarter comeback/collapse of the bowl season.
Down 21 in the fourth to TCU, up 20 in the fourth against Michigan State. Baylor won the first game and lost the second. The win in October provided playoff leverage but never did get the Bears over the top. This loss in January prevents the Bears from being able to join TCU as part of the “we were wrongly snubbed” crowd.
Are there lessons to be learned here?
It’s just something to take in with wide-eyed amazement.
Sports can be that way.
In October of 2014, Baylor drank from the cup of sweet nectar and joy. On New Year’s Day in 2015, the Bears had to take the bitter cup of sorrow.
It gives one pause.
TCU knows what Baylor is feeling right now.