Built to Last
Five years ago, Crabtree's catch and touchdown led Tech to a 39-33 win over Texas
Nov. 2, 2013
BY NICK KOSMIDER
Even some of the most stunning moments in sports can fall victim to the weathering effects of time. The film becomes grainy, the newspaper clippings begin to yellow and fade and memories slowly seep out of the collective conscience.
A select few moments, though, posses a sturdy armor against such decay.
These are the moments that forge too deep an imprint for them to be easily wilted away. These are the moments that are immortalized, emblazoned on a community, their images inescapable.
Texas Tech and Lubbock, of course, shelter such a moment.
It was five years ago, Nov. 2, 2008, that the Red Raiders ended one of the most exciting, heart-pounding, hold-your-breath games college football has ever seen with a final act so brilliant, so stunning, that the seems-like-yesterday sentiment among those who witnessed it won't fade any time soon. The memories will follow to the gravestone.
Texas Tech 39, Texas 33.
"LET THE SCORING BEGIN."
But while Musberger's words may have signified the start of the game, the euphoria surrounding the mega showdown was ramped up long before he took his seat in the press box.
"The hype that week in Lubbock was just crazy," said Mark Finker, a longtime member of Tech's radio broadcasting team. "It was all people could talk about. It wasn't about work or anything else that was going on. That was it."
The "College GameDay" experience, ESPN's traveling pregame show, arrived midweek and took over the Tech campus. The intense, storied rivalry between the Red Raiders and Longhorns, which dates back to 1928, creates its own volcanic atmosphere. Add in the glare of national spotlights and you had a Mount Vesuvius that was ready to blow by Saturday night.
Zach Long, a multimedia journalist who has covered Texas Tech football the past six seasons, had started his tenure in Lubbock just prior to the 2008 season.
Having previously chronicled such Southeastern Conference football powers as Alabama and Auburn, he had seen his fair share of festive college environments, but nothing prepared him for that first Texas Week.
"You're talking about a Raiderville situation where those kids were camping out and had that entire stadium surrounded," Long said. "From Sunday night onward, the crowd just grew and grew to where they had it completely surrounded. You started to get the feeling that you were about to see something very, very special."
As the madness engulfed the South Plains, the focus inside the tight circle of the Tech team was as sharp as it had been all season.
"We honed in on film study, on preparing for the stadium to be packed," said Marlon Williams, a junior linebacker on the '08 team. "It was attention down to every last detail possible. So being in the locker room before the game, it was just that overwhelming sense of, `We're going to win.'"
When that calm confidence met the firestorm that was raging throughout decibel-crushing Jones AT&T Stadium, it was as if the Red Raiders had been fired out of cannon.
Tech was forced to punt on its first drive after driving into Texas territory, but that may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
After the Red Raiders downed the punt at the 2-yard line, Colby Whitlock threw the first punch of the heavyweight fight, tackling Texas running Chris Ogbannaya in the end zone for a safety on the Longhorns' first play.
Queue the eruption.
"I thought the building was going to come apart," Long said. "I don't think I had ever heard a building more loud than in that moment right there."
Whitlock's comments after the game provided insight as to just how prepared the Red Raiders were heading into the game.
"They are a real zone team and they run a lot of zone (runs)," Whitlock said that night. "We watched that zone in Tuesday's game planning and said, "As long as we attack, we will make plays.' I attacked and we ended up in the end zone."
After Whitlock's hit, The Red Raiders did their part from there to keep The Jones shaking to its foundation. Tech's first drive had come up empty, but the next three resulted in scores. When Graham Harrell hit Eric Morris, now the school's co-offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach, for an 18-yard touchdown three minutes into the second quarter, Tech was up 19-0.
Would The Game still mean what it does if the momentum had never turned? What if Jordan Shipley doesn't finally jolt life into the Longhorns with a 45-yard punt return touchdown to open the second half? What if Malcolm Williams doesn't found his way behind the defense for a 91-yard touchdown reception from Colt McCoy?
Would 44-12, or a score of that ilk, still be talked about with such reverence? Is a win against No. 1 a win against No. 1, no matter the path traveled to achieve it?
Texas ensured we'll never know the answer by finding its footing in the second half, and when Vondrell McGee rushed into the end zone from four yards out, giving Texas a 33-32 lead, the Red Raiders had 89 seconds with which to write the ending of a classic.
Harrell, Tech's all-time leading passer, would tell sideline reporter Lisa Salters on the field after the game, surrounded by a crush of delirious students, that he had one thought in his head.
"They gave us too much time," he said.
One second too much.
In a game that featured too many big plays to count, Jamar Wall made perhaps one of the most underrated by returning the final kickoff 38 yards, setting Harrell up with excellent field position to orchestrate the final movement of a breathtaking concerto.
This was no ordinary incomplete pass, of course. This was fortunes changing in the blink of an eye.
The pass from Harrell to Britton was tipped and floated in the air more like a balloon than a football. Blake Gideon, Texas' then-freshman safety was positioned perfectly. The ball was about to land in his hands, bound to seal the heartbreaking fate of the Red Raiders.
"Intercepted," Musberger bellowed.
Only it wasn't. Three years later, Gideon still didn't know how the ball had slipped through his fingers, telling an Austin reporter, "Nobody I know took it harder than me."
As Gideon stood up from the turf that warm November night in disbelief, Harrell felt his heart move from his throat back down into his chest.
He had one opportunity to make the most of his second chance. He had eight seconds.
Crabtree, his eyes as wide as saucers, would insist afterward that he had already dreamt the outcome. Maybe he had the dream while the ball was in the air, because for those whose breaths were held from the time Harrell let it fly until the time it ended up in No. 5's hands, that moment seemed suspended in time.
"As soon as the ball went in the air, I was like, `Shoot, he's going for Crab, the best receiver in the NCAA,'" Williams said. "It was the best situation possible. Lo and behold, he made an amazing catch and ran it in."
All that was left was the pandemonium. Set up in the back of the end zone, Long remembers saying only one thing to his staff photographer closest to the action as Crabtree euphorically strutted across the back of the end zone.
"Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!" he bellowed above the deafening boom.
The quick action of photographers and videographers ensured that perhaps the most indelible image in Texas Tech football history would stay forever frozen in time.
Plenty of businesses in Lubbock have made the image a centerpiece in their buildings. Current coach Kliff Kingsbury, who had attended the game, proudly displays the memories of that night in his office, a source of inspiration for other magical moments to come.
Funny thing is, some moments don't need photos or video or headlines to preserve their memories. Some moments will forever stand the test of time.
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