Where Does The 2007 Fiesta Bowl Rank?

Posted Jan 2, 2007

How does the 2007 Fiesta Bowl stack up against the greatest bowl games ever? The ending might have been amazing, but was this really a better game than the 2006 Rose Bowl? How about the 2003 Fiesta Bowl? Just how improbable was this? Pete Fiutak analyzes the great game and puts it in historical persepective.

By Pete Fiutak

So just how good was the 2007 Fiesta Bowl?

Boise State's win over Oklahoma was perfect college football theater and easily one of the most entertaining games ever played. After such a phenomenal event with so many heart-stopping twists and turns, it's easy to make the knee-jerk call that it was the greatest ending/game/bowl of all-time, but was it?

There was the David vs. Goliath aspect. There was the gut-check comeback by Oklahoma in the final minute, including a two-point conversion attempt that required three tries before Sooner quarterback Paul Thompson was finally able get the job done. There was the they-can't-lose-like-that interception thrown by Jared Zabransky for an Oklahoma touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after the Sooners tied it. There was the epic drive to knot the score back up to force overtime with a 4th and 18 hook-and-ladder play that now takes a seat right next to the Duriel Harris to Tony Nathan classic in Miami's loss to San Diego in the 1982 AFC playoff game. There was Adrian Peterson, in what was likely his final carry in a historic career, ripping off a 25-yard touchdown in overtime. There was a gimmick play on fourth down for Boise State to get its overtime touchdown, and then the
coup de grâce , the Statue of Liberty two-point conversion for the win.

(Deep breath).

Any one of those aspects would've made the Fiesta Bowl a classic, but when you put them all together, the game makes a legitimate case for being considered the greatest of all-time, and not just the greatest bowl game.

As far as excitement, it's hard to vote against it, and this could be seen ten, 15, 25 years from now as one of the most important games ever if it becomes the gateway to equality between the "mid-majors" and the big boys. It might also be a spark for further debate about a playoff ... who wouldn't want to see the Broncos play the Ohio State-Florida BCS Championship Game winner?

However, at the moment, as far as how you want to define the game as great, it has to take a back seat to a few of the national championships only because of the significance to the season. At the end of the day, this was an unbelievable game between two top ten teams; it wasn't No. 1 vs. No. 2.

First of all, let's get rid of the Boise State-as-a-little-guy myth that so many want to cling to. Yeah, the Broncos play in the WAC and yeah, Oklahoma might be viewed by some as the Evil Empire, the Apollo Creed, or the bad guy in this game, but Boise State had won 85 games in eight years coming into Monday night's game. This was hardly some fluky, one-hit wonder; this has been a rock-solid program for several seasons with a blowout win over the same Oregon State team that beat USC this year, a walk-in-the-park win over a Nevada team that pushed Miami in the MPC Computers Bowl, and wins over Hawaii, Utah and San Jose State, who all looked great in their respective bowl wins.

Oklahoma, as good as it was being the Big 12 champion, wasn't the juggernaut of past seasons and didn't beat a who's who of top teams. It was only a year ago when Oklahoma lost at home to TCU and almost blew it the following week to Tulsa. In other words, Boise State might have shocked the world, but it wasn't an out-of-left-field surprise to anyone who follows college football. The Little Engine That Could aspect to the game matters as far as national perception, but it's probably going to be overblown.

Secondly, excitement is in the eye of the beholder. When ranking the thrill level of games, Boise State's win is in the team photo of greatest finishes because of the sheer number of amazing moments, but on an all-time level, the 1982 Stanford-Cal band play, the 1984 Flutie Hail Mary to beat Miami, and the USC final drive to beat Notre Dame in 2005, with the fourth down pass to Dwayne Jarrett and the "Bush Push" for the game-winning score, have to be up there.

For the improbable and impossible, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl still can't quite touch the 1980 Holiday Bowl, when BYU was down 45-25 to SMU with less than four minutes to play, and got a blocked punt, a defensive stand, and a Hail Mary, or as BYU called it, a Save The Game pass, from Jim McMahon to win 46-45. Heck, you could even argue that Texas Tech's Insight Bowl win over Minnesota this year, coming back from 31 down and having to start its final drive on its own nine with no timeouts and less than a minute to play, was just as wild.

So where does the 2007 Fiesta Bowl rank among the all-time greatest bowl games?

Here's the criteria: 1) It had to have some major significance. If it wasn't for a national title, something truly special had to happen. 2) The finish had to be thrilling. Every great story ends with a bang. 3) The game was well played. As fun as the 2007 Fiesta Bowl might have been to watch, it was hardly a well-played game by Oklahoma until the end.

With that in mind, the ten greatest bowl games of all-time (in a completely debatable list) are ...

10. 1970 Cotton Bowl
Texas 21 ... Notre Dame 17    

After already being declared the national champion by President Richard Nixon, Texas still had to win it on the field against a great Irish team in Notre Dame's first bowl game in 45 years. The Irish went up 10-0 highlighted by a Joe Theismann 54-yard touchdown pass, while the defense was keeping the Longhorn wishbone attack in check. Texas didn't panic going up 14-10 on two long marches as the option attack finally started to work. With just under seven minutes to play, Theismann connected with Jim Yoder for a 24-yard scoring pass for a 17-14 lead and an apparent upset. It was then up to Longhorn quarterback James Street, and the daring play calling of head coach Darrell Royal, to pull out the championship. Street converted two fourth down plays on a 17-play drive including a 44-yard completion on fourth and three. With 1:08 to play, Billy Dale took a pitch from Street for a score to take the lead for good. A Texas interception squashed the final Irish drive, and finally, the national title was really won. Beyond being able to win the national title, this game was the 20th straight win for the Longhorns. Texas would extend the streak to 30 in a row before losing to the Irish in the 1971 Cotton Bowl.

1997 Rose Bowl
Ohio State 20 ... Arizona State 17   

Its hard to look at this game without considering what might have been. It could've been the unbeaten Buckeyes against the undefeated and lightning fast Sun Devils of Arizona State for the national title, but OSU's Shawn Springs fell down allowing Michigan's Tai Streets catch what would be the game-winning touchdown pass in the last game of the regular season. Even so, it was an amazing Rose Bowl game anyway. After ASU hit a field goal to go up 10-7 in the second half, OSU quarterback Joe Germaine connected with Dimitrious Stanley for a 72-yard touchdown pass. Then the fireworks really began. Arizona State's Jake Plummer, who had led the Sun Devils to several heart-stopping wins during the season, marched the offense to a big late drive including a 29-yard completion on fourth down to keep the national title dream alive. On third down on the OSU 11, Plummer weaved and waggled his way through the Buckeye D for an apparent game-winning touchdown run, but Germaine had one final shot. With the help of several ASU pass interference penalties, the Buckeyes moved the ball to the Sun Devil five. Germaine coolly hit David Boston for the game winning score with only :19 to play for the thrilling win. The night after this game, Florida beat number one ranked Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. If the Sun Devils had won the Rose Bowl, they would've been national champions.

1979 Cotton Bowl
Notre Dame 35 ... Houston 34

Forever known as the chicken soup game, a young Irish quarterback named Joe Montana had his national coming out party (even though he had already won a national title the year before) by leading an improbable comeback against Houston while fighting hypothermia. At halftime, Montana was fed chicken soup to try and bring his body temperature up after having problems on the chilly Dallas day. With 7:37 to play, the Cougars were up 34-12 and put their backups in the game. Notre Dame's Tony Belden blocked a Houston punt, which was picked up by Steve Cichy for a 33-yard touchdown to get the ball rolling. Montana then connected with Vegas Ferguson for a two-point conversion to bring the score within 14. After Houston had to punt again, Montana took over running for a two-yard score at the end of a long drive. He then hit Kris Haines for a two-point conversion, and all of a sudden, the Irish were within six. All hope appeared lost for the Irish when Houston recovered a Montana fumble with just over two minutes to play, and with the starters back in, appeared all set to run out the clock. When the drive bogged down, Houston was faced with a dilemma on fourth and one on its own 29-yard line with just 35 seconds to play. Cougar head coach Bill Yeoman, fearing another blocked punt, elected to go for it needing just one yard for the game to be over. Notre Dame freshman defensive lineman Joe Gramke made a stop, and Montana had one last chance. The final drive started with an 11-yard Montana run followed by a completion to Haines for ten more yards. Montana got a pass off into the end zone on a quick pass, but it went incomplete. Now, there was just two seconds remaining. On the final play, Montana rolled right and fired a bullet to Haines for a touchdown in the front corner of the end zone. Joe Unis hit the extra point, but the Irish was called for an illegal procedure penalty. Haines converted the extra point on the second chance, and the Montana legend was born.

1979 Sugar Bowl
Alabama 14 ... Penn State 7

It should say something when legendary college football broadcaster Keith Jackson calls a game the greatest he's ever seen. The No. 1 Nittany Lions boasted All-America quarterback Chuck Fusina and an offense that was beating up on everyone, while the defense was ranked first in the nation and played like it holding down No. 2 Alabama, with the exception of running back Tony Nathan who carried the ball 21 times for 127 yards. Bama QB Jeff Rutledge hit Bruce Bolton on a perfect pass to take the lead 7-0, but Fusina, who finished with four interceptions, brought back the Nittany Lions tying the game on a touchdown pass to Scott Fitzgee. The Tide answered as Lou Ilkner returned a punt 62 yards to the Penn State 11 leading to an eight-yard touchdown run from Major Ogilvy for a 14-7 lead. Midway through the fourth quarter, Penn State was within range to tie the game after recovering a Tide fumble on Bama 19 and getting down to the one yard line and an almost certain game-tying score. On third down, Matt Suhey was able to only get a half a yard making it fourth and goal from the six-inch line. Mike Guman tried to dive up the middle, but Bama linebacker Barry Krauss stuffed him for the Tide's goal line stand for the ages. Joe Paterno's team had what looked to be one final shot when Alabama shanked a punt late in the game putting the ball on the Bama 30, but were nailed with a penalty for having twelve men on the field giving the ball back to the Tide. AP named Alabama the national champions, while the Penn State loss allowed USC to win the UPI national title. Penn State finished fourth.

1987 Fiesta Bowl
Penn State 14 ... Miami 10

Miami was the dominant team in 1986 rolling to an 11-0 record led by Heisman Trophy winning QB Vinny Testaverde. The brash Canes caused a stir with their trash talking and controversial army fatigues worn to a pre-bowl dinner, while Penn State was anything but flashy using its defense to go 11-0 on the way to its second straight national title game after losing to Oklahoma the year before in the Orange Bowl. The high-powered Miami attack moved the ball well, but turnovers halted drive after drive. Even so, the Canes had 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter when Testaverde threw his fourth interception of the game leading to a D.J. Dozier eight-yard touchdown run with just over eight minutes to play. Miami got the ball for its final drive with three minutes to play starting on its own 23. After a rocky start to the drive and a fourth down conversion, Testaverde started to look like Testaverde marching the offense with ease down to the Penn State six with :25 to play. After a sack and a dropped pass, Miami faced fourth and goal from its 13 with :18 left. The national title came down to one play. Testaverde had receiver Brett Perriman open for an instant, but Penn State LB Pete Giftopoulis stepped in front of the throw to force the seventh Hurricane turnover and the fifth interception. Penn State finished the year No. 1 and the national champions. Miami was No. 2, but bounced back the following season to go 12-0 and win the national title.

1994 Orange Bowl
Florida State 18 ... Nebraska 16

The defenses were the stars early in a 0-0 first quarter. After a Seminole field goal, the Huskers struck as Tommie Frazier, known as a running quarterback, tossed a pass into a crowd that was deflected into the hands of Reggie Ball, who took it for his first touchdown of the season. But the Noles kicking game kept them alive as Scott Bentley nailed a second field goal to pull within one at halftime. The second half belonged to unstoppable Nebraska freshman running back Lawrence Phillips, but the Huskers were still down 15-13 with three minutes to play. Nebraska kicker Byron Bennett was 0-for-4 since kicking his last field goal two-and-a-half months earlier, and had missed two field goals in the previous year's Orange Bowl, but he took center stage after a great defensive stand by the Noles from the five-yard line, giving the Huskers a 16-15 lead punching it through the same uprights that saw Florida State miss a kick in Wide Right II against Miami in 1992. With 1:16 to play, the ball was in the hands of FSU's Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, who was having an efficient, but unspectacular, game. A Ward pass to Warrick Dunn, and a personal foul penalty on Nebraska, followed by a pass interference call set up a Bentley field goal for an 18-16 win. Not quite. A celebration penalty resulted in the Huskers getting the ball near midfield with :14 to play. Frazier, after one incompletion, completed a pass over the middle with one second to go. The clock read :00 and Seminole head coach Bobby Bowden was given a Gatorade bath during a post-game interview while wearing a national champion hat, but the game wasn't over. The officials put one second back on the clock ruling that the Husker receiver was down giving Bennett a final shot to break the hearts of Seminole fans, but there was nothing to worry about as he badly hooked the 45-yard attempt. Despite the win, there was still some controversy with the Seminoles ranked No. 1 and national champion despite losing to Notre Dame, who finished with one loss. Nebraska finished third.

2007 Fiesta Bowl
Boise State 43 ... Oklahoma 42 OT

In one of the wildest, most exciting finishes in college football history, Boise State ran a trick play in overtime with backup wide receiver Vinny Parretta connecting with Derek Schouman for a five-yard score on fourth down, and then won it on a Statue of Liberty play with Ian Johnson taking the ball from Jared Zabransky for the two-point conversion. Oklahoma had to fight back to tie the game getting a five-yard Quentin Chaney touchdown catch with 1:26 to play. After penalties forced a third two-point conversion try, Paul Thompson found Juaquin Iglesias for the tie. On the next play from scrimmage, Zabransky was picked off by Marcus Walker for a 33-yard interception return for a score. With under a minute to go, Boise State went 78 yards in five plays converting on 4th and 18 for a 35-yard score on a hook-and-lateral with Drisan James catching the ball and pitching it to Jerard Rabb, who took it for the score with seven seconds in regulation. Boise State dominated the first 57 minutes thanks to four OU turnovers with a 27-yard Marty Tadman interception for a score and two first half touchdown grabs from James. OU fought back with 18 straight points including an eight-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown run. Peterson scores in overtime on OU's first play on 25-yard run.

2006 Rose Bowl
Texas 41 ... USC 38

Texas came back from down 12 in the final 6:42 as Vince Young ran for a 17-yard score with 4:03 to play, the defense held USC's LenDale White on fourth down, and then Young led the offense on a ten-play, 56-yard drive culminating in an eight-yard touchdown run on fourth down for the win. Young ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns, but the Trojan rushing attack was equal to the task with 209 yards led by White's 124 yards and three scores. USC appeared to have it won after Reggie Bush dove for a 26-yard touchdown and Dwayne Jarrett caught a 22-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but Young proved to be too much to stop. USC cranked out 574 yards of total offense, Texas 556.

2003 Fiesta Bowl
Ohio State 31 ... Miami 24 OT
Ken Dorsey's fourth and goal pass in the second overtime fell short, and Ohio State won the national title. In regulation, a punt return by Roscoe Parrish gave Miami great field position for Todd Sievers to hit a 40-yard field goal with :02 to play to force overtime, and then the Canes took advantage of the momentum with a seven-yard touchdown catch from Kellen Winslow. Miami appeared to have the national title won on a broken up pass in the end zone on Ohio State's overtime position, but Glenn Sharpe was hit with a a controversial pass interference call leading to a Craig Krenzel one-yard touchdown run. Maurice Clarett scored on a five-yard touchdown run on Ohio State's possession in the second overtime.

1. 1984 Orange Bowl
iami 31 ... Nebraska 30
Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne was trying to win his first national title after his Huskers had outscored its opponents by an average of 52 to 15.5. Miami lost its opening game 38-3 to Florida before winning its final ten games of the regular season to move up to No. 4. By the time the 50th Orange Bowl rolled around on New Year's night, No. 2 Texas was upset in the Cotton Bowl by Georgia, while No. 3 Auburn squeaked by an average Michigan team 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl. Miami was now in the game for the national title. 

The Canes took a shocking 17-0 lead led by freshman QB Bernie Kosar and his razor-sharp passing completing eight of 14 passes for 142 yards and two scores in the first quarter. The Husker offense finally got going with a slow and methodical drive until it faced a 3rd and five on the Miami 19, and then Osborne reached into his bag of tricks for the Fumblerooski. QB Turner Gill took the snap and ran down the right side of the offense looking to pitch the ball with the Hurricane defense following, but he intentionally dropped the ball and let it lie on the turf after the snap for the Outland and Lombardi Trophy winning Dean Steinkuhler, who rumbled in for the shocking touchdown to put the Huskers back in the game.

Miami was able to take a 31-17 lead late in the second half on an Albert Bentley touchdown run, but the game was far from over as the Huskers pulled to within seven with less than seven minutes to play on a Jeff Smith touchdown run. Miami answered by going on a long drive and was in a position to put the game away, but missed a field goal. Even with the setback, the Canes did a great job of taking time off the clock giving it back to the Huskers with 1:47 to play.

Gill was having an average game overshadowed by Kosar's tremendous performance, but he wasn't getting much help as his all-everything receiver, Irving Fryar, was nowhere to be found. On first down on their own 26, Gill threw a strike to Fryar who cut up the field and took it 29 yards before being brought down on a last gasp tackle. With 1:12 to play on the Miami 25, Gill threw another perfect pass, but a wide-open Fryar dropped it in the end zone before collapsing in a grief stricken moment. On the following play, Gill fumbled the ball after getting popped, but Steinkuhler picked it up and rumbled for positive yards making it 4th and eight on the Miami 29. Gill calmly ran the option to the right, and at the last possible nanosecond, he pitched the ball away to a streaking Smith, who tore up the right sideline before diving into the end zone to pull the Huskers to within one point. Without hesitation, Osborne decided to go for two to try to win rather than go for the tie. Gill fired it outside to Smith, but it fell incomplete. On the ensuing onsides kick, Miami recovered preserving the 31-30 win.

With no overtime, if Nebraska had kicked the extra point, it would've been doubtful if there was a voter in America that wouldn't have voted the Huskers the national champions after a tie. Instead, Miami finished No. 1, Nebraska No. 2. This officially kicked off one of the greatest eras in college football history making Miami a superpower for over two decades.