I've experienced a lot of post-loss emotions during my evolution as a Virginia Tech fan.
In my formative years, losses depressed me. Later in college, they enraged me. Hell, I nearly smashed a friend's TV with a baseball bat after we allowed a punter to run for a first down in the Hurricane Game against A&M and we were WINNING. Alcohol does that.
More recently, Tech's losses have been frustrating because as you collect memories and birthdays you become better at recognizing trends and less naive about your team's chances when they're in a defined underdog role. But I experienced something entirely different the other night after I sat in the end zone of the Superdome and watched two field goal attempts fly into the net directly in front of me, one wide and the other true. I was numb.
I was numb because the effort of the team I saw in New Orleans made me buy into what they were trying to accomplish. For the first time since I can remember while watching Virginia Tech football, I wanted the Hokies to win for completely unselfish reasons. I didn't want them to win because I'm a Virginia Tech fan and I feel better after they win. I wanted them to win because goddammit, that team deserved it.
They played hard from start to finish. After early mistakes, bad bounces, bad decisions by their own coaches and questionable decisions from officials they took everything that game had to throw at them and kept fighting. That doesn't happen as often as you think in college football. Kids don't always have that kind of resolve.
So when Michigan's players streamed onto the field to celebrate their 23-20 win in the Sugar Bowl while our guys headed to the locker room in defeat, it numbed me.
I spent the rest of the night in the French Quarter searching for what I should be mad about. I wanted to be mad. I needed to be mad. But who should be on the receiving end of it?
Justin Myer for missing the overtime kick? Hell no. He's the last possible candidate. He was put in that situation because of a series of selfish decisions by people other than himself and did better than any of us could have imagined. Making four out of four in regulation? That was as heroic an effort as a kicker has ever given in modern college football.
Another player? Couldn't find one. Logan Thomas played absolutely fearless football and guided the offense maybe better than he has all season. Jayron Hosley, who had every reason to phone in his final college game to save his hamstring and ride off to NFL riches, was amazing and probably had the best game of anyone on defense.
The coaching staff? Not them either. I thought our game plan was exactly what it needed to be. From the start we got the ball to the boundaries to mitigate the impact of their interior linemen while not completely abandoning the run game. Sure enough, late in the game things started to open up and the run game was there. There were issues in the red zone, but overall the game plan on offense was what we needed and obviously the game plan on defense was, too.
Frank Beamer? Yes, the fake punt call was completely inexcusable, but he was also the one that got this team to play the way it did when many, myself included, questioned whether the team would be focused. There's just something about the voodoo in the Superdome that get Frank's in-game decisions to go wacky. We've seen it in three consecutive Sugar Bowls now.
The officials? I still don't know whether I think Danny Coale's catch should count or not. I keep going back and forth. One minute I'll think I see the ball controlled between his bicep and forearm and the next I'll see the ground move the ball just enough to justify calling it no good. I still honestly don't know.
There's nothing there with enough reason to induce the post-loss rage I knew when I was younger, so I'm left with numb. We lost because we turned the ball over early, got out-executed and out-schemed in the red zone and had to settle for field goals and had enough balls bounce (or not bounce depending on your view of the Coale catch) the other way to give us a close, excruciating loss.
Our players deserved a better fate and no one will ever convince me otherwise. They gave a tremendous and dominating effort that I'll never forget and feel privileged to have witnessed. I'm sure I'll see more Virginia Tech losses. I'm sure some will leave me frustrated, some will leave me enraged and some will leave me embarrassed. But can't help but think it will be a long time before another one leaves me the way the 2012 Sugar Bowl did.