PASADENA, Calif. — The ornery BCS expired loudly, perfectly, kicking and screaming into the chilly darkness.
The loony BCS took its last breath Monday by taking away the breath of a Rose Bowl filled with chants, chops, dancing and grief.
Auburn won. No, Florida State won. Check that, Auburn won. No, wait, by a score of 34-31 blazing in eternal white bulbs above a field littered with glittering confetti and forever memories, Florida State won college football’s final BCS national championship.
Won with 13 exhausting, crawling seconds remaining.
Won by the six inches that separated Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Auburn defensive back Chris Davis on a two-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston.
Won in six words uttered by Davis as he stood in a somber Auburn locker room amid teammates crying into their hands.
“Good defense, good catch, all over,” he said.
It’s all over indeed, the 16-year BCS college football championship system that will be replaced next season by a four-team playoff. Also ending was the Southeastern Conference’s seven-year stranglehold on the crystal ball, and isn’t America thrilled with that?
In the end, the much maligned system finished its runs by getting it right with the two best teams in America playing one of the best games of any season, a game so wildly dramatic and intense that it left at least one competitor walking in circles on the cluttered field in a daze.
And that was a guy from the winning team. Mario Edwards Jr., a Seminoles defensive end, stood far apart from his stage-crowding teammates during the postgame trophy presentation, alone and in shock.
“I’m at a loss for words,” he said, looking up at the thousands of Seminoles fans who wouldn’t stop screaming. “Best game I’ve ever played in. Best game I’ve ever seen.”
Was this the best of the 16 BCS championship games, even better than the legendary Texas victory over USC in January of 2006?
Well, even Vince Young’s game-winning touchdown dash for the Longhorns couldn’t match the 4½-minute romp that ended this game.
At the time, Auburn led 24-20, and had clearly rattled Heisman Trophy winner Winston, whose alleged sexual-assault scandal-marked season appeared destined to end in failure.
“We felt like we had control of the game, it was ours,” said Tigers tackle Greg Robinson.
Then, in one of the maddest Pasadena dashes since those chariot races, the game belonged to Florida State after a 100-yard kickoff return down the left sideline by a freshman sprinter named Levonte Whitfield.
Remember how Auburn had won the previous game of the year with a 100-yard return against Alabama?
Were they going to be felled by that same sword? Whitfield, who was the Florida state high school champion in the 100 and 200-yard dash, was never even touched. The Seminoles’ sideline erupted with the run, dancing down the sideline led by coach Jimbo Fisher shouting, “Go! Go! Go! Go!”
Said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn: “Obviously, we didn’t cover it very well.”
Said Florida State’s Edwards Jr.: “I swear, that kid is the fastest player I’ve ever seen.”
Auburn took the ensuing kickoff, lost a yard on the first two plays, and the Florida State celebration was about to ... not so fast.
Nick Marshall, the Tigers’ unsung quarterback who outplayed Winston, hit Sammie Coates on a 15-yard pass that started a drive that ended when Tre Mason literally ran over the Seminoles’ Jalen Ramsey for a 37-yard touchdown to give Auburn another lead.
It was surely one of the greatest plays, and drives, in Auburn history, yet afterward, both Coates and Mason were too devastated to even talk about it.
It was that kind of game.
Said Coates: “This was a heartbreaker.”
Said Mason: “I apologize to the Auburn family and the rest of the fans that we didn’t finish.”
They didn’t finish because, resoundingly, finally, heavily favored Florida State and Winston did. With 1:11 remaining in the game and the Seminoles on their 20-yard line, the Heisman guy finally started playing with some stiff-armed purpose, completing five of six passes and leading his team to the 10-yard line.
This is where the game got even crazier, when Auburn’s Davis was properly called for pass interference on Rashad Greene, but who can blame him? With the season in the balance, he was hanging on Greene for dear life.
Moments later, Winston found Benjamin for the game-winning score on a high pass that the leaping Benjamin pulled down above Davis, that hero of that field-goal attempt return against Alabama ending this game on his back.
“I knew it was going to be a touchdown as soon as I stepped up to the line of scrimmage,” said Winston. “Any time you see KB one on one, it’s a dream come true, the way that guy plays, the way he wanted it.”
Winston said Benjamin wept with passion before the game — “KB actually got emotional ... and cried ... he kept telling people thank you for believing in me.”
In the end, as Florida State players made snow angels in the end zone confetti while Auburn players stumbled away with their hands on their helmets, it was as if the 16-year-old BCS championship game was also offering a sort of thanks to America’s football fans.
Thanks for putting up with the crazy system and its sometimes confounding title matchups. Enjoy your parting gift.