Friday, August 31, 2012

10 years later...

10 years later and I am starting to think…maybe life is more about the misses…than the makes.

Like a brilliant diamond, it was the thousands of cuts, that made it so magnificent. It’s the refinement process that produces beauty.

ESPN’s top play of the week referred by many Michigan fans as simply “The Kick”, contains more than a singular kick. Actually, there were plural “kicks” in the game that led up to the one that most remember.

I still recall folks telling me after the game that one day people will forget the misses, and only recount how they felt as “The Kick” from 44 yards out, with ESPN College Game Day nearby, split the uprights to give Michigan a two point advantage as time expired in front of 110,000 screaming fans.

I still have the ESPN sport center game review and I find as much meaning in The Kick, as I do in what I will dub “The Misses”…and a couple of them being big misses.

The first miss came in the first quarter. The Wolverines had broken out into an early lead thanks to the legs of Chris Perry. On 4th down I was called in to attempt an average field goal attempt of 37 yards. Good snap, good hold, wind at my back…but wide left. Directly into the student section.  I was a little stumped by the outcome because I thought I made good contact, but during film review the next day revealed that I brought my head up to soon which caused me to hook the kick.

The second miss, well….the term wide left doesn’t do it justice. ESPN Sport Center commentators referred to it as a “wounded duck.” At that point, fans would rather have put stock in seeing their first ever flying pig before they saw me kick a pig skin through any uprights.

Well, after recovering in the locker room after a shameful and down right ugly start to my career as a placekicker at the winningest college football program in history, my fate was looking gloom, quite contrary to the hot, bright sunny day that was Ann Arbor that day.

Warming up before the start of the second half resulted in even more embarrassment as every kick continued to go wide left, but this time each one soaring into the hands of a 19 or 20 something kid that shared that same title as “student” as me. They were my peers, but they were not forgiving of my performance. They began to boo as I had a difficult time kicking the ball straight.

Wisely and maybe a little influenced by the booing fans, my special teams coach decided to bench me for the second half and go with my back-up and best friend to see if luck in the kicking game could change. He too, was also very unproven and had never attempted a kick in the big house during a game.

After scoring a touchdown in the third, his first ever extra point soared through the center of the uprights, which brought a roar from the crowd that almost equaled the sounds you hear as a player when you run out of the tunnel to jump and touch the banner.

The fans were rallying around the new found hope in another kicker, and my stock fell lower than what was experienced by the Big 3 a few years back.  I was down and out, and if it wasn’t for my powerful leg on kickoffs, my career at Michigan may have been short lived, described by a couple of missed kicks, one that most fans could have out performed.

Well, as the game went on the two missed field goals (6 points) started to feel a little more painful as Washington kept the game close and even took the lead at different points. With several minutes left, Washington scored a touchdown to take the lead, 29 to 28.  At that point, most fans were probably strategizing their plan to lynch, tar and feather me. Hmmm…should we nab him before he goes into the locker room or grab him on his way out.

Fortunately for the fans, John Navarre and Chris Perry were on fire that day and led the team back down the field with 1:27 remaining on the clock. With a failed third down attempt, it would come down to a kick from 27 yards out.  Nothing more than a chip shot for a kicker who had been perfect on extra points. This only being 7 yards further, didn’t seem to present many problems.

The kick did not sail wide left, rather, it just missed wide right.  The fans were in utter shock. If there was any reprieve for me after that miss, it was the simple fact that I was no longer going to have to fear the headlines in Ann Arbor News kicker lynched….because at this point my best friend and one time back up kicker was going down with me.

With little time remaining and no kicker who can make a field goal, the only hope found in that stadium was in the word…hope-less. The Wolverines took the field on defense to grind out the remaining seconds, with the only thing going for Michigan was the three timeouts they had left. A Washington first down at this point, would end the game, and solidify the kicker(s) lynching.

With a stop on the first play and a quick timeout, there may have been some fans who started to walk a little slower as they tried to be the first escape the mass exodus from the Big House; trying to beat traffec on main and state street on their way to I94 or US23.

If there was any hope in moving the ball with no timeouts it dissipated quickly as John Navarre had difficultly finding a receiver. With 9 seconds left, some fans started kicking themselves for not leaving earlier.

Washington, wanting to make sure they were perfectly prepared for any last second heroics called their final timeout to put in just the right package to ensure a victory over the #10 Wolverines, for the second year in a row.

Their package worked perfectly as John Navarre overthrew everyone, including the 12 Washington defenders that were on the field. With five ticks remaining on the clock the official picked up a yellow flag signaling this grave error by Washington, and eventually announcing that 12 Huskies were on the field, one too many...all of this following their timeout, of all things.

The official marched the field a full 15 yards closer to the uprights, the ones that were in throwing distance by half the student body. The distance from the uprights was set at 44 yards, left hash. It was still no easy kick, especially by two kickers who still hadn't made a career field goal in three earlier attempts that day.

With not enough time to do eeny-meeny-miney-moe, Coach Carr had no choice but to call #34 (Phil Brabbs) into the game because he had a stronger leg, which gave a slight advantage for him over the guy who just missed the last kick.

Although the Big House had been witness to many college football games for decades, it had never been home to a game winning last second field goal, oddly enough. There was a shot at it this day, but the odds were more in favor of a former soccer player randomly picked from the student body making this kick than anyone sporting a winged helmet from the sidelines. 

So at a moments notice, Coach Carr told me to get into the game and attempt a kick that could redeem both kickers for the day.  I took my steps back and to the left, recited Phil 4:13 as I always would do, motioned to Navarre to take the snap, and then headed toward what would end up being my most defining moment as an athlete in the thousands of hours of competition I had totalled...and this play would only last 5 seconds. Talk about pressure.

That kick was up and extended over two Huskies defenders that were reaching for the sun, and as I looked up, I saw the ball sailing perfectly through the uprights (watch it here). All of a sudden time seemed to stop. I couldn’t hear a thing, probably because the stadium feared an inevitable outcome of a fourth missed field go attempt by the guy who botched two in the first half.

Then, as both refs motioned that the field goal was good, I entered back into reality, probably when my 6'6" QB and holder started to grab and shake me like a rag doll. The reality that something big hit us both and every fan in that stadium at the exact moment, and I (or my right foot) was part of it. I knew instantly that this wasn’t just my first career field goal, but this was something that was going to be imprinted on Michigan Football history for years to come, just like the game announcers had commented.

After being pulled from the bottom of a 100+ person pile on at the center of the Big House, which I would have been content with being my final resting place during that moment, I was found smiling and screaming with joy. The picture to the right shows just how charged I was in that moment. 

After my rescue from the bottom of the pile, I was instantly swarmed by the press. I recall the media shoving all their microphones towards my face as if I had the solution for world peace on the tip of my tongue and I was about to share it to the whole world. As most of the team returned to the locker room to sing The Victors, which is a great Michigan football tradition, I needed to be rescued. So none other than D-line coach Brady Hoke came to my side to pull me through the barrage of press. To this day both of us have the photo the right on our office desk. 

Well years have come, a full decade worth to be exact.  That play was determined to be with of the top 20 in the Big House. So yes, it indeed was a very big moment. For me, it gave me hope in the impossible. It taught me that in what can be your weakest moment, hope can ride you through the dark night and carry you through. That you can go from goat to hero in this world in a moments notice. That you need to remain positive when surrounded my negativity.  That those closest to you: your teammates, family, friends, will be there when you are in the middle of the improbable fate that looks to lead to know where but devastation.

But in this entire game experience that led to The Kick, I am now thankful for the misses, because to this day, they are helping guide me through some of life’s toughest challenges. Yeah, football is just a game and those were just a couple of kicks, but the emotions I experienced were real and it was on a stage were millions were glued to the outcome.

Let’s raise our glasses to the many misses we have in life, whether missed field goals, snaps that got away from you or an occasional botched hold. Those dark moments may just be the predecessor of a really great moment. So hold on, keep the faith, remain hopeful and expect the impossible.

God Bless and Go Blue!!! (10 years later)


P.S. #BeatBama


tanyab88 said...

I just recently came across your blog. I am a HUGE Michigan fan and I remember that game like it was yesterday! My question to you is, do you really think they can beat Bama??? :)

amy said...

i read this whole thing and then at the bottom thought the hash tag said "beatobama" - it was very confusing on many levels (:

Anonymous said...

That was an excellent read - Brabbs from 44 is a phrase that will live on forever in Michigan lore. It's one of about a dozen moments in my 25 years of being a fan that I can remember exactly where I was when it happened.

Congratulations on a great day and also on your wins and fighting spirit since then. You're one of about a million reasons I'm proud to be a Michigan alum!

Big EZ said...

Phil, was thinking of you while I was watching the Michigan/Bama game tonight. Although I am a SEC fan, I was pulling for the Maise and Blue for a bit.
I am in agreement with you on your point: having and recognizing the "misses" in life lets us appreciate the "hits" even more.
My best to you and yours!

Steve Jones Update said...


First of all, I've spent almost 40 years living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I worked at UA for 7 years and I graduated from there. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed the Cowboys Classic on Saturday night.

However, five years ago, I moved to Michigan to pastor a church south of Grand Rapids. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I had a stem cell transplant this summer at your beloved Univ of Michigan and so far I'm making progress. (Dr. J was my original doc before he went to Chicago).

While I definitely bleed crimson, (and I make no apologies for that shellacking on Saturday night), I have a strong appreciation for Maize and Blue...especially for those on the BMT team.

Thanks for all of your inspiration!


Steve Jones

PS: I've documented some of my story at:

Sandy said...

This is such a motivating message, Phil... thanks for sharing it!