Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ghosts of the Orange Bowl: Miami vs. USF 2005

Miami linebacker Leon Williams delivers a crushing hit to South Florida quarterback Courtney Denson

Football is not a contact sport. It's a collision sport. No matter how many times the NFL and the NCAA implement new rules to protect the quarterback, it will always be a violent game. On October 1, 2005, the University of South Florida football team visited the Orange Bowl to play the Miami Hurricanes. The Canes won 27-7 in what was mostly a boring and forgetful game. Neither team was a national championship contender. No records were set. It was just another ordinary college football game played on a Saturday night.

But from that game produced one of my favorite photographs ever taken from a football game. During the third quarter, Miami's Leon Williams came blitzing from his middle linebacker position. The target of Williams' s furious charge was USF quarterback Courtney Denson. Denson dropped back in the pocket and as he scanned the field to find an open receiver, he suddenly saw a blur of orange and white coming at him. With barely any time to react, Denson instinctively released the football. As soon as the ball left his hand, Williams crashed violently into Denson. If Denson were a brick wall, Williams would have run right through him. The impact of the hit was so ferocious, it sent Denson's body flying backwards like a cartoon character. It was one of the hardest hits I'd ever seen.

Photographer Bill Frakes captured the hit with his camera. The physicality of the collision was stunning. You could see the see the persperation of both players splashing into the air as Williams delivered the blow. Denson, who was a graduate of Miami Central High School, was making his long awaited homecoming. But it's debatable if he remembers anything from that game.