Now I finally have a pretty good idea on what it may have been like to witness the Immaculate Reception in real time.
I have had the following list on file for the last few weeks, and I am now updating it for the third time this month.
Here is list of the most dramatic final plays in college football history.
10. Northwestern vs. Nebraska (2013)
Only because this is still so fresh, it has to be included. Many NU fans would vote for the “kick ball” caught by Matt Davison on the final play of regulation at Missouri in 1997 (which had a Raiders “Holy Roller” aspect to it). That play led to a Cornhuskers victory and, ultimately, a share of the National Championship. Since I’ve made my criteria as “final play of the game” I will roll with this.
9. SMU vs. BYU (1980)
I never was able to duplicate the final four-plus minutes in a re-creation of the 1980 Holiday Bowl on the EA Sports college football game. With SMU leading 45-25, BYU coach LaVell Edwards appeared ready to call off the dogs and sent in the punting unit on fourth down, only to be vetoed by quarterback Jim McMahon, who ordered his offense to remain on the field.
What happened went down as follows: Fourth down conversion and eventual Cougar touchdown. Then an onside kick recovery followed by another touchdown to make it 45-39. Then a blocked punt which gave McMahon one last play to heave the ball 40 yards into the end zone.
The Ray Scott call on the Mizlou network was epic, “Receivers are down there, defenders are down there…” Tight end Clay Brown fought off several SMU players to capture the ball like a Black Friday shopper grabbing control of a PlayStation 4 to secure the touchdown. Technically it was not the final play, the was the ensuing PAT that gave BYU the 46-45 win.
Some BYU fans may vote for this final play touchdown v. arch-rival Utah from 2006, but I think the rest of us know that win over SMU should get the nod.
8. Wisconsin vs. Michigan St. (2011)
I had a bad feeling about this play when receiver Jared Abberderis was sent in as a defensive back. Kirk Cousins’ completion to Keith Nichol was originally ruled down short of the goal line, but then ruled a game-ending touchdown by instant replay.
The Badgers would be victimized again the very next week at Ohio State.
7. Southern Mississippi vs. Louisville (1989)
When it happened, this hardly made a sound. It was the final play between two mid-major teams and was authored by a quarterback who only Southern Miss fans and die-hard NFL Draftniks cared about.
What it wound up being was a Brett Favre prequel.
With one final play, Favre was about to be forced out of bounds at his own 10-yard line when he let the ball fly. The best part of the grainy video was the Louisville band member cussing at the Southern Miss receiver after he hauled in the in the deflected 80-yard winning touchdown.
6. Colorado vs. Michigan (1994)
Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook, a throw that went 70-plus yards in the air. Stewart may had been a maligned NFL quarterback, but the man had an arm. Rae Carruth was also in the neighborhood when the deflection was made.
The Colorado at Missouri fifth down from 1990 could have also made the list, but instead that goes under the category of most screwed-up finishes ever.
5. LSU vs. Kentucky (2002)
Kentucky considered this a done deal. The coach had already gotten a Gatorade bath and fans were ready to celebrate a rare win over the Bayou Bengals.
After the final play, Kentucky fans stormed the field and tried to tear down a goal post while the Jefferson-Pilot television network inadvertently flashed the final score as a 30-27 Wildcat win.
One problem, Devery Henderson had caught a deflection for a 75-yard score to steal the 33-30 win for LSU coach Nick Saban. Eleven years later Saban would realize life at the other end of a bad beat.
4. Stanford v. California (1982)
Many still have the band play as No. 1 on the list, and Joe Starkey might get credit for the best radio call ever.
But as the Cal radio man Starkey had right to go all-in on the call, on Stanford radio, the play-by-play man warned the Cardinal would not kick it deep because the previous week SMU won a game with a surprise lateral on a late kickoff.
It deserves a lofty ranking, but truth is “The Game” that year was between two middle-of-the-road Pac-10 teams, Stanford being so despite having John Elway.
Unfortunately, Rae Carruth is not the only player on this list now doing time. Cal player Mariet Ford is now doing 45 years to life after being convicted of killing his pregnant wife and son in 1997.
3. Georgia v. Auburn (2013)
Not final play of the game but close enough and dramatic enough. Fourth and 18 might as well have been fourth and 73 when Nick Marshall threw it long, and two Georgia defenders deflected the ball perfectly to Ricardo Louis in a play very similar to LSU/Kentucky 11 years earlier. At the time, CBS commentator Gary Danielson thought he had seen it all. He hadn’t.
2. Boston College v. Miami (1984)
Years before becoming a ESPN Radio announcer, Dan Davis was voice of Boston College football, where his call of the Doug Flutie Hail Mary lives on. After making a miraculous shot at a charity golf event, fans in the gallery yelled, “Davis did it!” in tribute to his call from a generation earlier.
This game was already a classic even without the ending. The duel between Flutie and Bernie Kosar continues to stand the test of time. It took 30-plus years to finally bump Flutie to Phelan from the top of this list.
1. Alabama v. Auburn (2013)
I’ll call this now, look for a tenth-second clock in football starting next year.
This immediately enters “Greatest Game Ever” discussion. Look at what there was before the final play: A.J. McCarron 99-yard touchdown pass, going for it on fourth-and-one because the kicking game had been so awful. A holding penalty (on Chris Davis) that nullified a potential first and goal late in the fourth quarter.
Before an Auburn time out as Bama lined up for the 57-yard field goal, Chris Davis was playing on the line off the edge. Gus Malzahn then decided to put Davis back deep in case the field goal landed short. The rest is history.
If Florida State vs. Ohio State were to be the National Championship game, we can only dream of a Alabama vs. Auburn sequel in the Sugar Bowl.
Because of the rivalry, what was at stake and the manner of finish that shocked everybody this makes the top of the list.
This will be relived for generations.