2002: Year in which Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward fought each other for the first time. This was the ultimate "styles make fights" match, and it is my standard for every boxing match that has taken place since then. I actually have to stop myself from referencing this fight about once a week. It was the boxing version of MACtion, basically. Mickey Ward, subject of The Fighter, was a street-fighter; limited by his actual boxing abilities, Ward had himself a successful career because of the strongest chin ever and one of the meanest, most brutal left hooks in boxing history. When facing a boxer who actually, you know, boxed, moved and played defense, Ward could end up frustrated and in some completely unwatchable fights. But when he found the right opponent, greatness happened, and in Arturo Gatti, he found his muse.
Gatti was a boxer with actual talent, speed, and a pretty good chin himself. His entire career, he toed the line between "boxing" and "fighting." He could win titles with his boxing ... but he just loved fighting so damn much. And about midway through Gatti-Ward I, after he had dominated with his boxing, he got sucked into a street fight ... and ended up losing.
Washington in no way played defense in 2011, but they played at a slow pace, played mostly in control, and went 3-0 in close games because of it. If they could keep the Valero Alamo Bowl a boxing match, they had a very good chance to win. But keeping up with Baylor is just so much fun. You can't help yourself. They scored touchdowns on six of their first seven possessions, scored on plays of 56 and 80 yards in back-to-back possessions, and took a 42-24 lead one minute into the third quarter. It was still 49-39 seven minutes later. Keith Price was outplaying Robert Griffin III. Chris Polk was ripping off long runs. Baylor had no answer for Jermaine Kearse. It looked as if they were going to beat Baylor at their own game. One problem: you don't beat Baylor at their own game. The Bears scored 28 of the game's final 35 points. At some point, Washington seemed to consciously realize they were in a street fight and attempted to dial it back. They went ahead, 56-53, on a 13-play, six-minute drive early in the fourth quarter. But their defense was gassed, and Baylor just kept on scoring. Washington scored just twice in their final seven possessions and ended up losing by double-digits.
Gatti ended up winning the second and third fights against Ward, and perhaps Washington would do the same. (And perhaps not. Even if you want to control the pace and flow of the game, Baylor just has so, so many athletes on offense.) But they got sucked into a street fight in this one, and they just couldn't keep up the pace of haymakers for 60 minutes.
And since I referenced Gatti-Ward I, I am legally obligated (by myself) to show Round 9 of that first fight, perhaps the best round of all time. (The only other possible candidate: the first round of Hagler-Hearns.)
1397: Combined yards. Both teams individually outgained the combined efforts of the day's other bowl game -- Baylor gained 777 yards, Washington gained 620, and Florida State/Notre Dame gained 570. That ESPN had former All-American linebacker Chris Spielman calling this game was an exercise in cruelty. After some particularly wretched zone coverage by Baylor, Spielman muttered, "To me, the guys out there have no idea what they're doing."
19: Kickoffs. Think about that. The game had 19 kickoffs. The teams combined for 371 kickoff return yards.
3: 100-yard Baylor rushers. Running back Terrance Ganaway continued his absolutely torrid late-season stretch with 21 carries for 200 yards and five touchdowns. In his final three games in green and gold, Ganaway gained 598 yards and scored nine touchdowns on 86 carries. As the season progressed, opponents not named Oklahoma attempted to play the umbrella defense against Baylor -- unfold as wide as possible and attempt to prevent big plays. To some degree, it worked to control Heisman winner Robert Griffin III; Griffin was sacked four times and averaged only 7.5 yards per attempt. But Ganaway continuously punctured the umbrella. He is absurdly fast for a 240-pounder, and Washington simply had no answer for him. That Jarred Salubi (five carries, 101 yards) and receiver Tevin Reese (two carries, 101 yards; seven total touches, 167 yards) also gained 100 yards (and Griffin threw in 93 non-sack rushing yards) was just a bonus.
0: Times I needed to hear about Robert Griffin III's NFL prospects during the game. We all know how TV telecasts work by now, especially ESPN telecasts. Identify a couple of storylines, and pound them into the ground. Sometimes that backfires (the "North Carolina's NFL-caliber defensive players" meme became a little awkward as the Tar Heels were gashed by Missouri), but sometimes you can keep it up all game, as Dave Pasch and Chris Spielman did last night. Let's put it this way: if you had a drinking game going last night, and if one of the rules was "Drink any time Cam Newton, Michael Vick or Tim Tebow are mentioned," you'd have been dead by the middle of the second quarter. Dear ESPN: last night was quite possibly my final opportunity to watch Robert Griffin III playing college football. I didn't want to spend the entire time talking about Robert Griffin III playing professional football.