Sometimes, It Really is Better to be Lucky

We’re all familiar with the cliche “it’s better to be lucky than good”.

My Mom called me after the game GT-FSU game Saturday to discuss the miracle finish. (Video, in case you haven’t seen it.) I told her at the time that it was “the luckiest thing I’ve seen since I started watching Georgia Tech football”, even more so than the miracle finish at Clemson in 2004.

But then I thought about it, and decided perhaps I should do a little comparison.

2004 vs. Clemson 2008 vs. FSU
Background Clemson had the ball and needed only a first down to win the game. On first down, Charlie Whitehurst tucks and runs with plenty of open space in front of him. To avoid the tackle, he slides down half a yard short of the first down. Clemson is then stopped for no gain or a loss on the subsequent two downs. FSU intercepted a Jaybo Shaw pass with plenty of time left and began to drive. Tech had forced a 4th and 11 and a punt at one point, but Daryl Richard fell out of his stance and was called for offisdes. FSU went for it on 4th and 6 and made the first down, and the drive continued unabated to the Georgia Tech 4. With the clock winding down under a minute, FSU looked like they were going to score the game-winning TD, but even if they somehow didn’t they still just need a chip-shot field goal to tie.
The Break Clemson’s long snapper doesn’t quite get it to the punter. The Clemson punter falls on it at their own 12 yard line. FSU’s Jermaine Thomas carries the ball straight up the middle with only one hand on the football. Safety Cooper Taylor puts his helmet on the ball and it flies in the air into the end zone.
The Luck Clemson was up by 3. Had the Clemson punter had the presence of mind to pick the ball up and run with it into the end zone Clemson probably would have preserved the lead and been able to force Georgia Tech in worse field position on the subsequent kickoff. Freshman cornerback Rashaad Reid makes a, well, freshman mistake and tries to pick the bouncing ball up instead of falling on it. Two FSU players attempt to get the ball, but somehow Reid comes out of the ensuing pile-up with the ball and a touchback for Georgia Tech.
The Game Reggie Ball throws the first of what would become Georgia Tech’s staple red-zone play for the next 3 seasons, the simple fade to Calvin Johnson. Despite some excitement on the ensuing Clemson Hail Mary, Georgia Tech escapes with the win. The call is reviewed and the replays confirm the touchback call. With 45 seconds left, Jaybo kneels twice (FSU had a timeout) and the game is over.

Overall, I have to go back on what I told my Mom and say the Clemson win was still luckier, mainly because there was pretty much no reason for Tech to get the ball back in decent field position there (much less the Clemson 12). All Charlie Whitehusrt had to do was slide an additional half a yard to get a first down and the win. All Clemson had to do after that was gain a half a yard in two plays. And all they had to do after that was punt the football. In the FSU game, the fumble was caused by an athletic play, and while recovering the ball required a significant amount of luck it didn’t require 4 straight plays worth.

One of my friends from Tech wasn’t able to watch the game (I was, thanks to the magic of the Slingbox) and so I was giving updates via AIM. Here’s the (slightly edited) conversation.
(3:40:57 PM) Me: [FSU rushes] to the GT 4
(3:41:41 PM) Me: FUMBLE
(3:41:45 PM) Him: NO WAY
(3:41:45 PM) Me: TOUCHBACK
(3:41:49 PM) Me: IT’S A MIRACLE
(3:41:53 PM) Me: SNAP THE […] BALL
(3:42:01 PM) Me: it’s questionable
(3:42:05 PM) Me: snap the […] ball
(3:42:27 PM) Me: we put a helmet right [on it]
(3:42:30 PM) Me: I think we really have it
(3:42:57 PM) Me: TOUCHBACK
(3:42:58 PM) Him: eeeee
(3:42:59 PM) Me: GT BALL
(3:43:01 PM) Me: 45 SECONDS LEFT
(3:43:04 PM) Me: FSU HAS 1 TIMEOUT
(3:43:16 PM) Him: So help me god if we fumble
(3:43:33 PM) Me: FORCED, EVEN
(3:43:44 PM) Me: GT WILL KNEEL
(3:43:51 PM) Me: THERE’S ONE
(3:45:23 PM) Me: BALL GAME
(3:45:30 PM) Him: gaaaaaaa
(3:46:06 PM) Me: they’re rushing the field
(3:46:17 PM) Him: hahahah
(3:47:57 PM) Me: wowowowow
(3:48:02 PM) Him: 49-3
(3:48:08 PM) Him: Florida is savaging Gerogia
(3:48:13 PM) Me: today
(3:48:15 PM) Me: is an excellent day

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