In an act that seems more prescient by the day, my wife and I bought an exercise bike back in late January. We settled on a decent one with good reviews that cost a few hundred dollars after seeing that we could buy a flimsy one for much less and an unnecessarily nice one (for us) for a whole lot more.
We reasoned that with a newborn (at the time) and two other small children, it was going to be increasingly hard to use a gym membership. The ability to hop on a bike in the middle of winter — or during a particularly hot or rainy day otherwise — had a certain appeal.
Then, of course, COVID-19 turned into a global health pandemic. The ability to cut through some stress with a quick sweat on the bike — without leaving the house — became even more urgent.
For a few months this summer, as we gobbled up fresh air, the bike became an expensive clothes hanger. But now it has found a permanent home in the basement, and now that we seem to have settled into a permanent descent into winter it is getting regular use again.
I like to jump on, usually relatively late at night after our kids are (finally) all asleep, and pedal for 30 minutes while watching the end of some sort of game (with a backup plan of listening to a podcast or audio book if there isn’t anything worth watching).
It doesn’t really matter what sport, even — if the score is relatively close, and it can push me through 30 minutes of moving while going nowhere, it does the job. (Plus, in this time of cancellations left and right, the privilege of watching any live sports is magnified even if it is conflicting).
The prospects looked thin Wednesday night until I came upon the Toledo vs. Western Michigan football game. It was 31-28 Toledo with about 4 minutes left when I turned it on, and Toledo had the ball deep in Western Michigan territory trying to ice the game.
Knowing the glacial pace of college football, those 4 minutes had the potential to last 30. Perfect, as long as it remained competitive.
Western Michigan forced a 4th-and-11 from the 15. Toledo decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. A pass was completed, and though the receiver did a wonderful job of struggling for yardage he definitely appeared to come up a half-yard (at least) short of the first down as he went out of bounds.
But officials ruled that he reached the marker. And after a review, the call stood.
I was apoplectic. Because while I cared not about who won or lost, a stop there meant (presumably) more meaningful football. A first down with about 3 minutes left and Western Michigan out of timeouts seemed to spell their doom. Soon I would be channel surfing again.
But right around that time, our 10-month-old started crying (hopefully not because he heard me shouting “he’s a half-yard short!” at the TV, and a game I should have cared little about, from the floor below).
I had told my wife I would handle it if he woke up, thinking that while he isn’t the greatest sleeper he usually makes it another couple hours beyond that time before needing some attention. So I went into his room for what proved to be a lengthy mission to get him back to sleep.
Oh well, I reasoned. I’ll get back on the bike later. And that game was pretty much over, anyway.
Indeed: ESPN’s win probability meter shows, in retrospect, that Toledo had a 99.7% chance of winning after it scored a quick touchdown after the 4th down conversion and kicked off with 2:54 left while holding a 38-28 lead.
Imagine my confusion, then, as I scrolled Twitter after one of several failed attempts to lay my son down to sleep, and saw this video clip:
Wait, wait, wait. Western Michigan not only scored a touchdown with 45 seconds left … but also got the ball back (on an on-side kick, it turns out) … and then drove down quickly AGAIN … to score the winning touchdown in the final seconds on a fake spike?
Yes, yes, yes. Final score: Western Michigan 41, Toledo 38.
Per the odds, Toledo holds on to win 997 times out of 1,000.
But one of those other three times, P.J. Fleck’s old team authored the greatest ending to a game I never saw.