Monday afternoon, Bryan Harsin was reflecting back on the night Boise State trick-played its way past Oklahoma and into college football legend, when he got around to this week’s game at Oklahoma State.
“Hey, I’m of the mindset ‘Whatever it takes,’ ” said Harsin, who was Boise’s 30-year-old offensive coordinator in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and is now the Broncos’ fifth-year head coach. “If we’ve gotta throw a ball behind our head backwards and that’s what it takes to win the game, then we’ll do it.”
He said this on a media teleconference. Those of us listening couldn’t see him. It didn’t keep me from picturing a twinkle in his eye just the same.
It’s reflexive. You bring up Boise State and there’s the hook-and-lateral miracle of a play the Broncos called “Circus.” There’s the Statue of Liberty handoff to Ian Johnson. There’s Johnson scoring, then proposing to the cheerleader as the Sooners trudge off the field as if flattened by a float in a Disneyland parade.
It has been 12 years now, but we still figure the Broncos will take a magic carpet from Boise, Idaho, to Stillwater for Saturday’s game. That when Harsin unrolls his game plan, little cartoon bluebirds will fly out.
It’s cute, but it also flies in the face of football. In football you make your mark by blood and guts. You prevail by being stronger than your opponent, not trickier.
Boise State has prevailed over Oregon, Georgia, Washington and Virginia Tech since stupefying OU. The Broncos have prevailed over several other Power 5 programs and in two more Fiesta Bowls.
They might have arrived by the power of deception that night a dozen years ago, but there is nothing deceptive about their growth in stature since. There is nothing deceptive about their No. 17 ranking this week or the worthy challenge they present No. 24 OSU.
“When you take everything together, this team may be as sound as any we play this year,” Mike Gundy said Monday.
The Cowboys’ coach raved about Boise’s schemes, continuity and culture. He was asked about the Broncos’ historic upset of OU, but he just didn’t give the topic as much attention.
Gundy has more important things to ponder, sure, but it also felt like a deferential gesture. As if those in college football’s inner circle appreciate the strength of a program more than its sparkle.
More interesting, and relevant, is Harsin’s point of view. He lives it.
How does he reconcile the facts of what has occurred over the past dozen years with the fictional elements from that storybook night?
“We’ve obviously talked about that game for many years,” Harsin said. “I think that it is its own separate entity. I really do.”
He treasures that night still. He doesn’t roll his eyes when asked to replay the hook-and-lateral or the Statue of Liberty play. He has contributed willingly to projects like Lindsay Schnell’s 10-year anniversary oral history for SI.com in 2016. (His money line on the decision to run a hidden-ball Statue of Liberty for the game-winner: “At that point, you’re just riding the lightning a little bit.”)
“I don’t think that game is ever an anchor that holds us back,” Harsin said Monday. “I think it’s still one that inspires people here in this program, that, y’know, we have opportunities like that. So let’s keep shooting for it. And I think that’s fine. You’ve gotta have something to chase.”
At the same time ...
“For our players now, our coaches, our success over the years, it’s not just based off that one game,” he said. “It’s been season after season and championship after championship and trying to continue that. That’s the thing. I think it’s hard not to sit there and just be a team that maintains. We’re not trying to be that team. We’re trying to get better. We’re trying to grow a program.
“We’re trying to do things that have never been done here.”
What Boise State did against OU in ’07? That had never been done anywhere. Harsin appreciates that still, sure as he always will.
He also appreciates the 12-win seasons and top-five rankings and first-round draft picks that have propped up the program since the Fiesta Bowl birthed it.
Maybe the Broncos run another Statue of Liberty on Saturday at OSU. They rolled it out during their Las Vegas Bowl conquest of Oregon in December.
They don’t, however, do these things out of some gimmicky responsibility or because they think that’s as Boise as their blue turf. They do them not as a tribute to their past, but to bolster their present and fortify their future.