Brotzman saves best, not-so-best, for last
The pose was identical.
Kyle Brotzman — Boise State’s kicker and the punch line to countless jokes in the last month — was bent at the waist, his hands clutching each side of his blue helmet.
Brotzman was in the same position on Nov. 26, when he missed the second of two late-game field goals in an overtime loss to Nevada. The loss ended Boise State’s national title and Rose Bowl hopes. And it turned Brotzman, a previously little-known former walk-on, into a household name among college football fans. And now he’s the all-time leading scorer among kickers in Football Bowl Subdivision history.
Here he was again Wednesday night in Las Vegas bent at the waist, helmet in hands, having let a perfect first-quarter fake punt pass — a perfect Boise State play — fall through his hands a yard ahead of the first-down marker.
No. Not him. Not again.
Mercifully, the drop was a mere footnote, part of a busy day for Brotzman in the Broncos’ 26-3 victory against Utah in the MAACO Bowl.
He scored eight points against Utah on two field goals and two extra points to set the NCAA career record for scoring at 439, surpassing Louisville's Art Carmody. He had a perfect directional punt to Utah All-American returner Shaky Smithson. He made two tackles on kickoff returns. And one of his field-goal attempts was blocked.
It was an eventful end to an eventful career for Brotzman, one of Boise State’s key contributors during a 48-5 stretch the past four years. In addition to his kicking, Brotzman ended his career as the Broncos' all-time leader in punting average at 44.6 yards per punt.
“The bottom line is that he played very well in his last game, which is fitting because of all the points he’s scored for us and all the great things he’s done,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “That’s how we’d want it to end for him.”
Hopefully, that's how it ends for Brotzman, who graduated last week with a degree in business management.
Hopefully he becomes a name in the record book. Or perhaps a vague memory of that classic game in Reno. Maybe he's best remembered for his pressure-packed fake-punt pass on "The Riddler" in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl that led to the Broncos' game-winning touchdown.
Maybe his name recedes from memory like all those Florida State kickers who couldn't lift the Seminoles past Miami.
Or like Mike Black.
It was Black who missed a 37-yard field goal that would have sent Boise State to the Division I-AA national championship game in 1990. Black missed in Reno against Nevada toward the same uprights as Brotzman's narrow 26-yard miss at the end of regulation.
"I can honestly say it's one of the worst days of my life," said Black, who went on to have a stellar career in the Arena Football League. "That's the one kick that stands out, no doubt about it."
We can hope that the end of his career marks an end as well to the stories about how Brotzman's miss cost the Western Athletic Conference about $8 million in a bowl payout. About how it cost Petersen a bonus for reaching a BCS game. About how it cost the Broncos a spot in the Rose Bowl.
It did all those things, no doubt.
Brotzman has done just one national interview since his misses in Nevada. Despite numerous requests, Boise State kept the kicker off-limits after Wednesday's bowl game, preferring to shield him from the spotlight. So we don't know exactly how he feels about all this.
But Brotzman — like Black — likely will never forget his misses, the two game-winning attempts in his Boise State career.
But maybe we should. He is, after all, playing for free. He is not a professional. This is not his job, even though it is big business for everyone else.
But maybe it's just not that easy.
There is so much attention, so much scrutiny, so much at stake that it might be unrealistic to expect Brotzman, a self-taught kicker who walked on from nearby Meridian High and became an NCAA record-holder, to go back to being anonymous outside of Boise.
On the night Brotzman missed against Nevada, a 26-yarder that would have won the game on the final play of regulation and a 29-yarder on the first possession of overtime, his family received threatening and harassing phone calls. They called the police.
Then supporters created a Facebook page, "The Bronco Nation Loves Kyle Brotzman," and more than 45,700 people signed up — a backlash to the backlash. Boise's Bronco Stadium, home of the famous blue turf, holds just 33,500 people.
Maybe it resonates so much because we've all imagined being there. We've all shot one more basket or taken one final swing or putted one last ball. For the NBA title. With the World Series on the line. With a green jacket in the balance.
"It's pretty much a kicker's dream to kick a last-second kick to win a game," Brotzman told ESPN in his lone interview.
Very few get the chance to actually try. Even fewer wonder what would happen if they miss.
We'd probably end up bent at the waist, hands on the side of our head in despair.