In the game of football there are three kinds of losses. First are the ordinary losses. In such losses the game is not decided in the waning moments, nor is the losing team utterly dominated and destroyed.
Second are those in which the eventual victor announces very quickly its superiority and proceeds to prove it over the next 60 minutes, widening the margin throughout. Texas Tech experienced such a loss in 2014 to TCU.
The third type is the soul-crusher that comes, often by seemingly miraculous method, just as the final moments tick away and the scoreboard fades to black. Glorious victory is transformed into bitter defeat.
Red Raider fans, gray of beard and long of tooth will recall that a particularly devastating loss such as this occurred on Nov. 13, 1982. On that cool and breezy afternoon in Lubbock, Texas the 4-5 Red Raiders battled the mighty Mustangs of SMU, 10-and-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation, to a stalemate. With only 17 seconds remaining Tech kicked a field goal that seemingly granted the Red Raiders an improbable 27-27 tie against perhaps the best college team in America.
But Calamity and Heartbreak were waiting in the wings.
Tech’s ensuing kickoff skittered to the SMU nine-yard line where Mustang defensive back Blane Smith muffed it and struggled to collect the ball in his hands. Red Raider coverage men, sensing a fumble recovery and winning field goal, homed in on Smith like a volley of Exocet missiles.
Alas, just before the frenzied Red Raiders hammered Smith, he lateralled the football to Bobby Leach, who had gone unnoticed on the far west sideline. Leach snared the ball, and as Jones Stadium fell deathly silent, rocketed untouched for the winning touchdown as the clock ticked down.
A remarkable Tech performance, and for a fleeting moment, a probable win, were viciously yanked from the Red Raiders and fans who were suffering through a Dark Age of Tech football.
This humble scribe, then 15 years old, was in attendance that afternoon in the west-side stands. At that time, it was far and away the worst sports experience I had endured. I did not shed tears, but came extremely close to doing so. Hopefully without lapsing into melodrama, it was an event that will remain with me to the end of my days.
On Sept.26, 2015 I was again transformed into that 15-year old boy, and transported to that day 33 years ago. Texas Tech, a program that had been in the doldrums since the palmy days of Mike Leach, was seeking to affirm before the college football-watching nation, that the Red Raiders were back. They were 3-0, and coming off an impressive 11-point road win over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
We all sensed that this was Statement Saturday. The undefeated and No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs were in town, a TCU team that had demolished the Red Raiders 82-27 the year before. But despite the apparent odds against Tech, national pundit after pundit predicted a Tech win, and the point spread between the Red Raiders dwindled as the week wore on. Everybody who cared seemed to think that this was coronation day for a Kingsbury.
And truthfully, Tech provided every indication that the general sentiment, the conventional wisdom was correct. The Red Raiders gave the killer Frogs everything they wanted and then some.
DeAndre Washington stuttered and waltzed his way to a career best 188 rushing yards.
Pat Mahomes, playing on a gimpy leg that resulted from a scramble in the first quarter, displayed the heart of a true warrior. Washington repeatedly referred to Mahomes as a “soldier” in the post-game press conference, and Mahomes very nearly willed the Red Raiders to victory, rushing for one touchdown and passing for two more as he rolled up almost 400 yards through the air.
Even the long-beleaguered Tech defense, facing possibly the most potent offense in the nation, did its bit, recording a few stops, and holding TCU to a respectable 22 second-half points.
But when the Frogs, trailing 52-48, got the ball back with 2:39 showing on the clock, that defense could not quite stem the purple tide. Following a short punt by Taylor Symmank, TCU marched down the field and set themselves up with first-and-goal from the Tech eight. Three plays, however, netted TCU only four yards, and with little time showing on the clock, the Frogs were confronted with fourth down. The game would come down to a single play.
Quarterback Trevone Boykin dropped to pass and quickly fired a high, hard rocket to Josh Doctson over the middle. Red Raider fans felt a brief spasm of victorious elation as the pigskin kissed Doctson’s fingertips and headed for a spot far beyond the end zone.
But just as Bobby Leach latched onto a crazy lateral across an entire football field 33 years ago, so too TCU running back Aaron Green corralled the tipped pass, tapped a foot just inside the end line, and stifled Texas Tech’s bid for redemption, revenge and respect.
It was just a football game. Just like that game in November of 1982. But that fact does nothing to lessen the very real emotional trauma that will linger with some 61,000 witnesses, perhaps for the remainder of their lives.