Reggie Ball is a punchline now, the name you throw out when someone asks who B.J. Daniels could beat in a game of NFL Quarterback Challenge on a slow espn2 Thursday afternoon. But is Ball's career a victim of the selective nature of memory? Decide for yourself as we review REGGIE BALL - THE SENIOR.
ACT 1: A ROCKY BEGINNING
Tech opens the season against a Notre Dame team led by Brady Quinn that will eventually wind up performing less than admirably in the Sugar Bowl. It's a brutal defensive battle, with the Jackets holding a 10-7 lead at halftime, thanks in part to a steady performance by Mr. Ball. Midway through the last quarter, with Notre Dame up by four, Georgia Tech is 45 yards away from the game-winning touchdown.
Here are the next three plays, the last the Tech offense will run that day: Reggie Ball pass incomplete, Reggie Ball rush for a loss of five yards, Reggie Ball sacked for a loss of 14 yards.
ACT 2: THE HERO AWAKENS
But the season is longer than one week, and Ball knows Georgia Tech will need him on other battlefields. Easy victories over Samford, Troy, and a particularly bland vintage of Al Groh Virginia Football follow, and suddenly the Yellow Jackets are a ranked team once more. Their next opponent? Mighty Virginia Tech, who has only allowed 23 points in four games. This is the fire in which Reggie Ball, Leader of Men, will be tried.
This game is over nearly before it's even begun, as Ball takes the Tech offense into the endzone on their first three possessions. At the end of the first quarter, he's accumulated 180 yards passing and running, including two touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson. He is considerably less sharp the rest of the game, throwing two interceptions and only six completions in the remaining 45 minutes, but it matters little. There are only two types of football players - the victorious and the interred, and on this day, Ball holds the shovel in Blacksburg.
ACT 3: WHISPERS OF MORTALITY
Georgia Tech builds on the momentum of that road upset by digging out a close game against a talented Maryland team, but then stumbles mightily at home against Clemson, falling by 24 points. Ball's statistics, however, are remarkably similar between these two: 13/25 for 161 yards and 1 TD in the former, and 12/25 for 117 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT in the latter.
Questions soon mount - is Georgia Tech winning or losing not because of Ball, nor in spite of him, but, rather, in a way which renders his performance irrelevant to the outcome? Could a stout defense, supported by Tashard Choice at running back and Calvin Johnson at wideout, win with anyone at quarterback? What happens if Reggie Ball, Foundation Upon Which A Conference Champion Can Be Built becomes Reggie Ball, Afterthought?
ACT 4: AND THEY SHALL KNOW MY NAME
That is not Ball's destiny, however. Hosting Miami in the fourth quarter, Tech is down by three, but Reggie Ball is undaunted. His key run for nine yards on third down turns what would be a challenging field goal into an easy kick that ties the game. Calmly, he completes four straight passes on the next possession, culminating in a touchdown throw to Johnson. And from there it is but a formality, as Tech simply runs out the clock while the Hurricanes flail.
That brings the Yellow Jackets to Raleigh, where Ball has what some have described as the "most Reggie Ball game in the history of the sport." Thirty five times, the ball whips out of his hand like a missile thrown from Heaven. Twenty two of those throws fall incomplete. Percentages are for those who think they can beat the house, however, and Reggie Ball knows all he has to do is bet big on the right hand. With under three minutes to play and Tech clinging to a one point lead, that hand comes, and Ball makes his move - a seven yard touchdown strike to put the game out of reach.
13/35. 217 yards. 4 touchdowns thrown. 2 interceptions. Reggie Ball is majoring in management, not calculus.
ACT 5: BECAUSE THERE ARE NO SUPERMEN
Wins against overmatched North Carolina and Duke teams are disposed with, and Georgia Tech has reached the mountaintop, kings of the Coastal Division. There is, of course, business to be handled before the ACC is decided - a rivalry game with hated Georgia. A victory there, followed by a defeat of Wake Forest, and the Yellow Jackets could be chasing history.
Of course, that isn't what happened. Decency allows us to say only this: there were no more touchdowns for Reggie Ball that season. The whispers had been wrong - this was a Georgia Tech team that needed Ball, maybe too much for their own good.
Nature has a way of seeking out symmetry, both beautiful and brutish. This is how Reggie Ball, so close to beating Notre Dame in that first week of his final season, ends his last drive with Georgia Tech, needing a field goal to tie Wake Forest in the waning minutes of the ACC Championship.
Rush for a loss of three yards.
CRYTERION FINAL GRADE FOR REGGIE BALL'S 2006 SEASON: D-minus. Yeah, Reggie Ball was just as shittastic as you remember.