Blake O’Neill. If Spartan fans didn’t know your name before today, they do now. You see, even though your first drive resulted in negative yards because of a false-start penalty, we began our second drive on our own two-yard line. How is this possible? Simple. You brought the thunder. In a game where every inch is fought for, you boomed the ball 80 yards.
Foolish me, I didn’t believe it was humanly possible to kick a ball 80 yards. I had never witnessed it before. Nobody this college football season had seen it either because nobody had done it this year. Until today. Your unbelievable 80-yard punt was the longest of the season. It was the second longest punt in the hallowed history of your school. And your school has a lot of football history. I’ve seen every position player at your school rip my heart out, I guess it was only time I would come to begrudge the punter.
The longest punt in your school’s history happened in 1986. It was 82 yards, only 2 yards farther than your Aussie-foot bomb. Monte Robbins was your punter. Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback. Harbaugh was also the captain. You beat us 27-6 that year. That year, you also went to the Big Ten’s heavenly destination, the Rose Bowl. Harbaugh is now your coach and you are now the punter. In your only season, you have made quite the impression.
I couldn’t believe it. We had you backed up to Kalamazoo. And then you boomed an 80-yard punt that was downed on our two-yard line. I realized the bar I was witnessing this game at must’ve been bad luck and decided that I would go somewhere else at halftime. I mean, even after we forced your team to punt, you guys were celebrating. Who celebrates punts? I do have to admit it though, that punt was amazing.
With only ten seconds in the game left, it was fitting the game would end with you. It was a rather routine play, but on this day it would be anything but. In the first quarter, it seemed like the wings on your helmet grabbed onto the football and wouldn’t let go. But alas, everything must fall back down to earth. It wasn’t raining today, but lightning certainly struck. Fans will blame you, I hear you’ve been getting death threats already. But rest assured, it wasn’t your fault. The Football Gods intervened. This play was out of your hands, just like the football.
In our football rivalry, you are the newest face on Mt. Rushmore: Braylon Edwards, TJ Duckett, Jalen Watts-Jackson, and now you – Blake O’Neill. Today’s ending eclipses University of Michigan’s 17-point comeback in 2004, TJ Duckett’s game-winning catch in 2001, and Hart’s “little brother” game in 2007. This 38-yard game-winning fumble return for a touchdown is most reminiscent of our 1990 rivalry game; which during the two-point conversion, the Football Gods forcibly ripped the ball from Desmond Howard’s grasp and MSU held onto a 28-27 victory. At the time you guys were ranked #1. For Desmond Howard, all might’ve seemed lost after this loss. But he won the Heisman in 1991 and ended up having one of the greatest collegiate careers ever. His ability to rebound matched his unequivocal football talents.
Blake O’Neill. If Spartan fans didn’t know your name before today, they do now. Save for this play, your career has been stellar. I’m sure you will rebound and have a remarkable season. But on this day, you are a legend to us Spartans in this bitter rivalry. Spartans everywhere will know your name for years to come. Just remember, the highs are higher because of the lows. Beauty only comes with the pain. Spartan fans already know these truths.
This ode is to you. This ode is to the greatest ten seconds of football ever. This ode is to 27-23, 28-27, and 27-6. This ode is to our rivalry. Spartans will always remember Howard’s incomplete catch, Duckett’s 0:00 reception, “Little Giants,” “Mouse Trap,” Stanford’s 4th and 1 in the Rose Bowl, and the 20-point fourth-quarter comeback in the Cotton Bowl. Spartans will always remember you. Who celebrates punts? We do.