Gallaudet's tip-drill goes viral

Dan Steinberg
Friday, October 1, 2010

The Gallaudet√ football team's tip-drill interception last Saturday was one of the most remarkable football plays you'll ever see. It caused Coach Chuck Goldstein√ to utter "some choice words you can't print," and then sprint out onto the field, grab one of the officials and holler: "Oh my gosh, did you see that? Did you see that?"

"High school, college, professional, I've never seen anything like it before," Goldstein told me on Thursday. "It was unbelievable."

The Bison wound up losing Saturday's back-and-forth game with Castleton State on a field goal with 11 seconds left. They didn't turn this particular interception, which happened in the third quarter, into any points. But coaches felt the play - in which linebacker Tom Pangia tipped the ball to Tony Tatum, who leaped and grabbed the ball as it was going out of bounds before heaving it back to Shelby Bean for the interception - deserved a bit more attention.

So John Davis, the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, pulled a 17-second clip, which concluded with the bench going bonkers, and sent it to sports information director Sam Atkinson, who forwarded it on to D3Football.com's "Play of the Week" contest. The clip arrived too late for the site's deadline, and so it was eventually listed as a runner-up to Emory's Caleb Jennings, who had a very fine 45-yard touchdown run.

Still, with the help of YouTube, Tatum's wizardry began to spread.

By Tuesday afternoon, it made it to SI.com's "Hot Clicks." By Tuesday night, it made it onto Versus's "The Daily Line." By Wednesday afternoon, the video had more than 20,000 views, and was featured on Yahoo's Dr. Saturday blog.

Then Atkinson went out to the men's soccer game Wednesday night, and when he came back, the clip was one of the rotating lead stories on the front of Yahoo.com. And so, by Thursday morning, it had been viewed more than 280,000 times. By Thursday afternoon, ESPN and NBC had called, and the clip had better than 625,000 views, making it without a doubt the most-watched play in Gallaudet football history.

"We're just amazed and grateful and thankful that it's gotten as big as it has," Atkinson told me. "Who knows where it goes next?"

The key player in the drama was clearly Tatum, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore defensive back whom Goldstein described as an unbelievable athlete. Tatum doubles as the captain of the basketball team; he was the Bison's second-leading scorer (11.5 points a game) last season, and was also first in blocks, second in steals, second in assists and third in rebounds. He was injured in the football team's first game this year, sat out two weeks and then watched Castleton mostly throw away from him on Saturday.

"He's been waiting for them to throw to his side all game; he just wanted to make a big play," Goldstein told me. "I think his basketball instincts kicked in."

What's next? Well, the Bison play at Husson in Maine on Saturday, which means a scheduled 12-hour bus ride through Thursday night with an early Friday arrival. The team has been working on a goal-line package in which Tatum lines up as a receiver, but with the time he's missed, it's uncertain whether that will debut. As for the tip drill?

"We practice that every day," Goldstein said, then waited a second and burst out laughing. "Obviously, it would have been an even better highlight if we could have turned it into some points or came out with the win, but Tony made an unbelievable play, and he deserves all the credit. You just don't see those things every day."

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