Four-Tenths of a Second
By Deborah Bullen
There are always moments in everyone’s life that are special. My wedding day, the birth of both my kids (well come to think of it, I was too tired to really appreciate those days), birthdays, vacations, fall football days and spur-of-the-moment wonderful days. But this day was the most exciting day of my life.
To set up the scene, it was late September and Myrtle Beach was experiencing a tropical depression of epic proportion. My husband and I were headed up to Annapolis for our son’s football game against Air Force. My fear was that the flight wouldn’t be able to take off that Friday afternoon because the weather was so foul. But the ceiling lifted, and we were able to get into National in a monsoon that, by this time, was making its way up north.
On Saturday, the outlook was actually worse. The tropical depression was making itself known with driving rain and winds of 30 miles per hour with no let-up in sight. Game time was 2 pm. Tailgating was ridiculous except for those who had tents with sides. We arrived at the field and were soaked in minutes. My hastily bought Navy poncho was adequate for the upper three quarters of my body, which left me with wet jeans from the knee down, wet shoes and a damp baseball cap. No matter, it was Navy vs. Air Force, and while jets wouldn’t be doing any flyovers that day, it was still a big game.
As you might imagine, the game was sloppy, even with the special turf on Navy’s field. Both teams were sliding all over the field, giving up the ball and not able to convert much of anything. Air Force was ahead, as they had been for most of the game. It was dismal. Navy was down by two touchdowns, and fans had begun leaving the stadium with three minutes to go. Who wouldn’t, except the parents of a player and the real die-hards?
Then, the improbable happened. With three minutes to go, Navy’s running back, Reggie Campbell, did what he does best. He got a hold of the ball and ran it far downfield into Navy’s end zone. The score was 21-14. Momentum had shifted, but still, there were only two minutes forty seconds left, and all Air Force had to do was run out the clock. Navy’s defense showed their tenacity in the next three plays by holding Air Force to three plays. When they punted it away, Navy got the ball back and was able to run it down the field in the two remaining minutes for a touchdown. My son came out to make the extra point with 50 seconds on the clock. Nerves of steel, that kid. He made it, and the game was tied up.
So we were looking at overtime. But first, we had to play out those last few seconds; Air Force’s ball. Somehow, Navy’s much maligned defense did it again – Air Force had to punt with about 10 seconds on the clock. Here’s where destiny makes an appearance. The Air Force punter muffed the kick, and Navy recovered on the fifty yard line. Time for one more play. Our quarterback gets it up field a few more yards with one second to go on the clock. Enter the kicker: Joey Bullen, son, sophomore, first year kicker, second year midshipman, and an all around unknown quantity for a 46 yard attempt in driving rain with less than a second. The Air Force coach did not even bother to call a time out (commonly referred to as “icing the kicker”). He allowed the play thinking the kicker was too inexperienced, too far from the goal, too rushed and the weather was just too awful. The clock ticked down to four-tenths of a second.
You can certainly guess by now that the kick was good, all beautiful 46 yards that sailed between the uprights, for a come-from-behind victory celebration on the field that was like no other that year. Joey would not be unknown in Navy or Air Force circles again.
What you may not know is that I probably took several years off my life that day by holding my breath longer than I thought was possible. You know what, it was worth it. College football…there’s nothing like it!
About this writer
- Myrtle Beach resident, Debbie Bullen, is a wife, mother of two of the world’s finest children and freelance writer. She has lived all over the southeast undergoing numerous career re-incarnations in TV, advertising, marketing and real estate.