January 08, 2010
If I were Colt McCoy ... well, let's just stop there, because Texas' senior quarterback and unquestioned MVP proved himself again Thursday night more gracious and patient with the universe than I could ever be if the fates had cut me down during one of the defining moments of my life. So I won't put myself in his shoes. But if I were a Texas fan, I would rather have lost Thursday night's BCS title game against Alabama by 40 points with my star player at full speed than stumble to a respectable defeat without him, and then have to listen to him grope for words to describe the disappointment of being shuffled off the stage just seconds into the show he'd prepared for most of his life:
If he were a different sort of person, McCoy's college career could be defined by what he didn't do at Texas; forever caught in the inescapable shadow of his predecessor, Vince Young, he goes out as the consummate runner-up. The Longhorns fell short of a conference championship and the BCS bowls in McCoy's first two years as a starter, and he couldn't get a great team over the top as a junior in 2008, when UT fell one second short of a perfect season at Texas Tech and dropped the year-end tiebreaker for the Big 12 South title -- and ultimately a shot at a national title -- to rival Oklahoma. McCoy subsequently finished second to OU's Sam Bradford in Heisman voting, and UT finished No. 2 in the polls.
As a senior, with a perfect season on the line and a chance to secure both the coveted national title shot and the Heisman, he was overshadowed by an opposing defensive lineman and nearly threw away his team's chances as the clocked ticked down in a defensively-dominated Big 12 Championship game; this time, he finished third in the Heisman vote the following week. This morning, his team sits at No. 2 in the final polls for the second year in a row.
But McCoy isn't going to go out that way, not because of the records he set as one of the most accurate and winningest quarterbacks in college history or the many, many awards he did bring in over the last two years, but because ultimately, when it came down to the defining moment (in either direction) his entire career had been building towards from the day he assumed the starting job at Texas, he wasn't really defeated.
That's not to take anything away from Alabama's impressive win or credentials as the No. 1 team in the country, or to suggest Texas would have definitely fared better on the scoreboard if McCoy hadn't been knocked out on the first series. But for Colt, the disappointment isn't about losing -- people can deal with losing, eventually. But after five years at Texas; four years as the leader, public face and heart and soul of one of the most visible teams in America; endless early mornings and late nights; countless triumphs and disappointments of all sizes; and at least one ill-advised mustache-growing contest, the blow at the end is that he didn't even get to play for the prize that had driven him through those trials. In the game that mattered most to him, to his legacy at Texas and in college football at large, he was reduced to a spectator. He could have been just another guy watching the first growing pangs of the Garrett Gilbert era at UT on television.
The cruelty of McCoy's finale is not that he's the gracious, likable also-ran, always good but never quite good enough; it's that he was denied the opportunity to finally be something greater, an opportunity he'd earned as much as any player in this sport ever has. He didn't get to finish writing his own entry into the ledger, whatever it would have been, and no one has the right today to fill in those blanks for him. The cruelty is the mystery.