You can find Joe Lindell on Twitter all the time. You could find him this past Saturday in Moorhead, where he was a fan in attendance when Concordia-Moorhead improbably lost to St. Thomas in a football game for the ages. He e-mailed last night and asked if he could write a guest post about the experience and I’d say he delivered a very good one. Joe, take it away.
As a fan, Concordia’s loss to St. Thomas Saturday was the worst defeat I’ve experienced. Personally, this was worse than the Vikings’ losses in the 2009 and even the 1998 NFC championship games. I was up in Moorhead celebrating my 20th reunion. As a Concordia student in the 90s, I didn’t play football, but I went to all of our home games and even traveled to a few road games. As an alumnus, I still root for the Cobbers, but I probably have only attended 5 or 6 games in the last 20 years. This was a game the players and most of the 5,680 fans will long remember—but not in a good way.
The game managed to combine three of Bill Simmons’ 16 Levels of Losing 2.0. He writes:
Level XVI: The Princeton Principle Definition: When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the ’89 NCAAs).
The Cobbers had lost their last eight games against the Tommies, who have dominated the MIAC of late, making the NCAA Division III playoffs six out of the last eight years since Glenn Caruso was hired as head coach. Adding to the David vs. Goliath theme was the enrollment disparities — St. Thomas’s undergraduate enrollment of 6,240 is nearly triple that of Concordia’s 2,114. Finally, the Tommies came into the game with a 16-game regular-season MIAC winning streak and a No. 4 national ranking. So, going into the game I had pretty low expectations for the unranked Cobbers, despite both teams coming in undefeated in conference play.
Concordia took an early 7-0 lead on a 89-yard drive. The Cobbers would dominate on the ground, tallying 272 yards against a defense that previously had allowed just 48.6 yards (Fargo Forum). This was in marked contrast to the Cobbers passing game. In the first 59 minutes, the Cobbers had six yards passing. The last minute … we’ll get to in a little while.
Level IV: The Guillotine. Definition: … Your team’s hanging tough (hell, they might even be winning), but you can feel the inevitable breakdown coming, and you keep waiting for the guillotine to drop, and you just know it’s coming – you know it – and when it finally comes, you’re angry that it happened and you’re angry at yourself for contributing to the debilitating karma.
Level III: The Stomach Punch. Definition: Now we’ve moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with (A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play or (B) one of your guys failing in the clutch. … Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. … Always haunting, sometimes scarring.
In fact, Simmons claims the ultimate level of losing was only attained in game six of the 1986 World Series: “The only game that actually combined The Guillotine and The Stomach Punch. No small feat. Let’s just hope we never travel down that road again.” While the stakes in this regular season MIAC tilt clearly pale in comparison to a potential World Series elimination game, I think one could make a case that the Cobbers also sadly experienced both last Saturday.
Guillotine part one: With 12:52 remaining in the third quarter and the ball at their own 44-yard line, St. Thomas quarterback Alex Fenske dropped back and threw a deep ball to receiver Joe Reed. The Cobber defender leaped to bat away the pass, but somehow the tipped ball found its way into Reed’s hands anyway for a Tommies touchdown. At this point, I should have known that it wasn’t going to be our day. The Tommies led 10-7, but the drama was far from over.
Guillotine part two: After both teams added early fourth quarter touchdowns, the Tommies led 16-14. Fast forward to the last 44 seconds of the game. After consecutive sacks, Concordia faced a fourth down and 23 from their own 11-yard line. The Cobbers ran the old hook-and-ladder to perfection, with quarterback Michael Herzog firing a 12-yard pass to receiver Nick Anderson who immediately pitched the ball back to a streaking Jason Montonye who took the ball the remaining 77 yards for a touchdown, taking an improbable lead of 20-16 with just 29 ticks remaining on the clock.
At this point, I was jumping up and down on the track be the end zone in Jake Christensen Stadium, feeling weak in the knees and thinking that my Cobbers might just pull off a thrilling and improbable Homecoming upset. I’m getting ready to storm the field, but the Tommies had other ideas, and the Cobbers were going to do their part to lose the lead as well.
Stomach punch part one: After a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Cobbers were whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, forcing them to kick off from their own 20-yard line. St. Thomas had the ball at their own 44-yard line.
Stomach punch part two: After another costly 15-yard penalty for defensive pass interference and a 20 yard pass completion, the Tommies called time-out with the ball at the Cobber 21-yard line and 12 seconds remaining. Fenske, who would finish with gaudy passing numbers (22-31, 373 yards, 0 interceptions) finally made a mistake, when his pass flew right into the arms of Concordia linebacker Alex Berg, who dropped what would likely have been the game sealing interception.
Stomach punch part three: The inevitable knockout punch came when Fenske fired a 21-yard touchdown pass to Nick Waldvogel with just 2 seconds remaining in the game, smashing the Cobbers glass slipper for good.
I went from stunned jubilation to gut-wrenching sadness in the 29 seconds of game time between the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the kickoff, the pass interference penalty, the missed INT, and the inevitable and tragic conclusion. It was just too much.
Searching for perspective, I recalled that as co-host of the Class of ’96 reunion breakfast — an eternity ago (that morning) — I had read the names of five classmates who had passed away since we graduated. I tell myself again and again, “It was only a game. Get over it!” I knew I should be able to get over it, but this game still smarts — more than it should. I don’t really feel great about that, but it really did a number on me.
The Minnesota sports sky is not falling. The Vikings are 5-0. Could this be their year? Maybe this will finally be the year the Timberwolves make the playoffs? The Wild has hope. The Twins have nowhere to go but up. Perhaps I should watch highlights of their improbable victory over Detroit in game 163 in 2009, the most exciting and joyful game I’ve ever seen in person — as a counterpoint to the Cobbers improbable, gut-wrenching defeat.
I’ll get over it someday, and I hope writing this piece will somehow help. For now, it still haunts me.