The once most reviled man in Boston feels for the now most revealed man in Boise.
Bill Buckner, meet Kyle Brotzman.
For Buckner, the bad times have faded. He and Red Sox Nation have made peace over Mookie Wilson' 24-year-old five-hole shot through Buckner's legs in the 1986 World Series. For Brotzman, Boise State's (in)famous kicker, the only healing going on is in the training room.
|Bill Buckner officially made peace with Boston. When will Kyle Brotzman make his with Boise? (Getty Images)|
Buckner is a Boise resident, has been for more than a decade and a half. He calls the Broncos "we"; he once coached former coach Dan Hawkins' kids in Little League. Brotzman is a senior masquerading as a lightning rod. If his two missed field goals Friday against Nevada are finally out of replay rotation, they will live forever in the minds of Broncos fans. If not for those couple of barely-wide chip shots (26 and 29 yards), Boise State would be playing for a likely Rose Bowl berth this week and still have hope for a national championship.
Maybe Lucy knew something when she was pulling those footballs away from Charlie Brown. She wanted to spare him Brotzman's pain.
"He just has to realize that the majority of people in Boise, they're not blaming him," Buckner said. "It's a team sport. It's unfortunate. We all dream of kicking the winning field goal or hitting the winning home run, but it doesn't always work out that way. It's just a game."
For now, Brotzman has all but gone underground. He has refused all media requests save for one with ESPN that, it should be pointed out, pays Boise State a lot of money to televise some of its games.
Despite that disappointing stance, Brotzman is still worthy of our pity -- and Buckner's. A quarter century after a city and a region came down on the Billy Buck, Brotzman is getting his own form of abuse. Only the delivery method has changed. The Internet lit up with name-calling following the Nevada loss. One website called him one of the 10 biggest chokers this season. The Ada County Sheriff heard about harassing phone calls to a woman with the same last name. In response, a Facebook page called "Bronco Nation Loves Kyle Brotzman" sprung up. As of Tuesday, it had 28,000 members.
"You're going to get a small percentage of idiots anywhere," said Buckner, who ought to know. "He missed two field goals that he probably could kick in his sleep. Dealing with losses is part of the game."
Buckner has had that quarter-century to let the wounds heal. This is the first week of the rest of Brotzman's life. There is the regular-season finale against Utah State and a bowl game, likely in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. That's a long way from Pasadena.
"It's an ungodly feeling. I know our fans feel it too," Boise coach Chris Petersen said. "It's just so painful."
Try to imagine 20 or so Brotzman family and friends gathering Friday for a watch party. As the game played out the scene became "very somber, very quiet," according to Michael Brotzman, the 27-year-old brother of Kyle. Immediately after the game, the kicker had 550 messages in his in-box. The reaction was so negative that he had to take down his Facebook page. A man from Oregon called the Brotzman's mother, Julie, to say he lost $250,000 on the game. When the man persisted, the family called authorities. On the inspirational side, a man identifying himself as the father of Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair called to offer his support. After 77 consecutive extra points, Blair missed the point-after against Georgia Saturday that would have tied the game 35-35 with five minutes left. "In the long run, he'll be fine," Michael Brotzman said of his brother. "Not bad for a guy who never had a kicking coach. He's self-taught. If that's the worst of it, I'm OK with it."
Twenty years ago, Boise kicker Mike Black missed a similar kick on the same field in overtime against Nevada. The I-AA Broncos were knocked out of the national semifinals.
"It's hard to get it out of your mind," Black told the Idaho Statesman. "It's going to be with you the rest of your life."
Brotzman's missed kicks caused the Broncos to plummet in the rankings as if the voters couldn't wait to label them frauds. But anyone who saw Boise play this season knew they could beat anyone, not just Gordon Gee's Little Sisters of the Poor. When it counted, Boise couldn't beat the nation's No. 19 team on the road after playing one bad half.
"I watch them pretty close, I think this is their best team," Buckner said. "Let's put it this way, if they were playing anybody, I would not bet against them. No one looks like Alabama did last year."
That's what makes it more painful and ungodly.
Brotzman's abuse is important this week, the last of the regular season, because it's bound to happen again. Maybe it's the Internet, maybe there are more knuckleheads out there. Maybe too many people are losing money gambling. Something is going on that causes them to react so crazily to amateur football. LSU's Les Miles just keeps winning games, but not the right way for some tastes. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe felt so unsafe because of death threats that he wasn't on hand Friday when Nebraska won the Big 12 North.
That's the same day Brotzman became one of the biggest stories of the season. Strangely, he has been like a kicking metronome most of his career. He is the leading active scorer in Division I-A, nine points away from becoming the career leader in points by a kicker. A legion of Boise State fans, of course, wishes that total was down to six.
Brotzman, from nearby Meridian, Idaho, was close to going to NAIA school Montana State-Northern until he was convinced to walk on at Boise in January 2006. By 2007, he had a scholarship, was kicking and added punting duties midway through that season. Brotzman has made big kicks on the road before -- in this year's Fiesta Bowl, in the opener against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field. In that Fiesta Bowl, he threw a fourth-down pass on a fake punt to help beat TCU.
He agonized, at times, over kicking from the left hash mark. For a time, the stats reflected the phobia. But this season he was 13 of 14 from inside the 50 -- until Friday. Both short kicks looked good, but on replay were shown to be just outside the goalposts. It almost seemed like Brotzman let the first kick (wide right) beat him twice. The second was wide left.
"It kind of looked that way, which is understandable," Buckner said. "You drive off the road to the right, which way are you going to turn the wheel?"
At Meridian High, coach Kip Crofts remembers Brotzman "never came off the field," playing on both sides of the ball while also tying the school record with a 52-yard field goal.
"These type of things don't go away, and they're not going away for a long time," Crofts said. "I love this kid to death. I don't want anything negative coming from me about him. He just had a couple of bad kicks -- one thing that everybody is going to remember for a long time." Boise fans might as well have watched their hearts ripped out before them. It's not anything Boston hasn't felt.