Most of the time, sports make sense, which is fine, since sports can be compelling and make sense at the same time. Often it's when they make no sense that they're most memorable, because we all have a mental warehouse reserved specifically for absurdity, and there ain't that much inventory arriving on a regular basis.
NC State opened its 1999 football season at Texas during the last weekend of August, in conditions that felt like the most oppressive in the history of earth. I swear I lost five pounds before kickoff, and I was merely standing in the visitors' section. It seemed stupid to play a game that time of year, in that heat, but it was fitting since that was the stupidest game I have ever witnessed in person.
State was a heavy underdog to the Longhorns for good reason--Mack Brown's rebuilding efforts were going well, and they were fresh off a season that saw Ricky Williams win the Heisman. State was coming off a seven-win year thanks to Torry Holt's fantastic final season but had no obvious replacements or identity in his absence, which is what happens when you recruit like NC State did in the 1990s.
Texas recruited like Texas--especially with Brown at the helm--and oh my god was the difference obvious within about three plays. How Jamie Barnette survived that game I'll never be sure, but that dude always was tough. The Wolfpack managed 172 total yards that night, 80 of them coming on a seven-play first-quarter touchdown drive that was capped by a 25-yard touchdown run by Ray Robinson.
Robinson's scored cut Texas' lead to 10-7, and all things considered, it could have been far worse for State, which had turned the ball over on consecutive snaps early in the period to grant UT a 10-point cushion. That was one of those spots in any given game where I was absolutely certain it could not possibly end well. It's that moment when my brain goes "yep," turns around and walks away, stoic but disappointed, closing the door behind it. (It later peeks back through a crack in a window shade, just to be sure, of course.)
Ray-Rob's TD would be our lone highlight because Texas had linemen on both sides who were enormous, athletic horrors and it had controlled time of possession and holy hell it was hot.
State's defense did a fine job containing Texas' offense when it wasn't, you know, starting a series on its own half of the field, and that 10-7 margin held into the latter third of the second quarter, when the Pack blocked its first punt of the game. The Wolfpack had a half dozen chances to hop on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, yet somehow it eluded everybody, rolling out the back for a safety. That memory has aged nicely within the context of the years to follow. Whole lot of NC State things happened on that play.
But! The lead was just 10-9 in Texas' favor, despite the Horns' obvious edge up front. Naturally they came back with a touchdown drive to take a 17-9 lead into the break. That was the score three minutes into the fourth quarter when State blocked its second punt, this one resulting in a touchdown. Barnette's throw on a two-point try fell incomplete, though, which left the Wolfpack still trailing.
Texas went up 20-15 after hitting a field goal halfway through the fourth, and that was it. Good effort and such, fellas, way to hang tough--two blocked punts, hey that's cool! NC State's offense didn't crack 35 total yards in the second half. The idea of a touchdown drive was nonsense.
The reality of our fate had pretty much settled in when Terrence Holt blocked a punt with a little over three minutes to go, which was returned for the go-ahead touchdown. Holt accounted for both blocked punts in the second half. This time, Barnette was successful on the two-point play, hitting Chris Coleman in the corner, and all the sudden WHAT IS GOING ON.
Texas could not so much as get to the edge of field goal range after that, and so State held on for a 23-20 win in disgusting heat, despite being out-gained by 200 yards, turning the ball over four times, and averaging 2.5 yards per pass attempt. That's just silly and all sorts of absurd. That game was the damned greatest.