At first, Jamelle Holieway thought the pass that brought the national championship to Oklahoma was a hopeless rocket misfired at launch.
"Tell you the truth," the freshman quarterback admitted, "I thought it was over his (tight end Keith Jackson's) head. I just laid it up, then hoped and prayed he could get to it."
At first, the Penn State coach who ordered the all-out blitz (on third and 24) that Holieway beat for the 71-yard pass-and-run touchdown thought it a brilliant piece of daring.
"I gambled we could turn it (the game) around," said defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
He paused and forced a smile.
"I guess we did."
So the Sooners are No. 1, champions of the corrupt and compelling serial that was college football this season. Convincingly. Unanimously. And after surprisingly wimpy performances by their challengers, Iowa and Miami. NBC could suit up its Thursday night gang -- Cosby at running back, Normie from "Cheers" at nose tackle, etc. -- and stomp the Big Ten representative each year at the Rose Bowl.
The talk here most of last week was not how Miami was going to beat poor Tennessee, but by how much. If it were necessary to slip past Oklahoma, would gentleman Jimmy Johnson run it up on the Vols? Sure would, the Hurricane coach hinted.
Score at the Sugar Bowl after three quarters:
Tennessee 28, Miami 7.
As in the Orange Bowl, only a small segment of the country was going bonkers -- the part that understands and appreciates a sign being strutted near the OU bench: "I'd Sooner be in Chicken Creek, Oklahoma." Most of the 74,178 either fussed about the Penn State offense or slumped in their seats in stunned silence.
Miamians came to root and to toot. They wanted Oklahoma to beat the top-ranked Nittany Lions, but not too badly. In dreams as grand as the halftime show, they figured no pollster in his right mind could deny Miami the national title if it won impressively and the team it walloped more than two months earlier did not.
Well, Oklahoma won big. Only some inspired defense by the Nittany Lions kept the score from being at the half what it was at the finish (25-10). The quarterback who had been ordinary in 11 victories, John Shaffer, was terrible in the lone defeat.
"We felt we could read him lots of times," Oklahoma's defensive backfield coach, Bobby Proctor, said. Proctor's guys intercepted four passes. So well did they anticipate that Shaffer would fail to search for an alternate receiver, they could have scolded the ball just before catching it: "What took you so long to get here?"
Once the Sooners got settled it became clear that Penn State was lacking in the necessities of offense: running and passing. After a first-possession drive produced their only touchdown, the Nittany Lions' movement could be measured more accurately in inches than yards.
"We only have two kinds of players at Oklahoma," Coach Barry Switzer insisted later. "Great players and good players." He said this Oklahoma defense was his best in 13 years. So junior Shaffer and the other relatively young Penn State offensive players have a plausible alibi.
The quarterback with the poise of a fifth-year veteran, it developed, was the free-spirited freshman, Holieway. Penn State tried to confuse him, and did at times. It tried to force the Sooners into the least effective parts of their offense, and did at times.
Generally, Holieway was heavenly.
"Hollywood Holieway," a teammate called him, the reference being to his California roots and fondness for whatever sparkly adornments also draw attention to him off the field. He is a charming blend of flash and faith.
"We had a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting this morning," he said, "and the speaker told us: 'If the mind conceives and the heart believes, with God's help you will achieve.' I thought about that all the time out there."
He was wearing a hat embroidered with "Oklahoma: National Champions." It was made up long before kickoff, as was the bumper sticker he produced from the bag he stuffed his cleats into. Thick-paper posters with the final score were being distributed in the Sooners locker room before the third wave of reporters had surrounded Holieway.
"They didn't let me do what I wanted to do," he said. "They took away the pitch; they took away the outside running game; they took away myself. I said before the game that they might be able to take away three parts of our offense, but not everything.
"All they left open was the passing game and the fullback."
That was enough, somebody mentioned.
He went on: "I didn't think they'd be that tough. They gave me a few dirty shots, but I guess that's football. I got kicked in the head a couple of times after the play. That's all right. Oooooooh, I'm tired."
Could he sympathize with Shaffer?
"I sympathize with nobody," he said. "We're no. 1."
That was fairly obvious by halftime, but not certain until Penn State's Massimo Manca missed a chip-shot field goal with 2:46 left in the game and Oklahoma ahead by 19-10. This is a stadium that seems to order stunning football drama. So a field goal, an onside recovery by the Nittany Lions, some heroics by backup quarterback Matt Knizner and . . .
Manca blew the field goal.
Penn State was doomed.
The Sooners swooned.
"They're stout," said the linebacker who howls even when it's not midnight under a half-moon, Brian Bosworth, "but we're bad. In all humbleness, we're bad."
That was what the coaches had preached to Hollywood Holieway; that was his postgame sermon to the press. He was asked about what had seemed the very real possibility of not playing much for a couple of years at Oklahoma, until sophomore Troy Aikman suffered a broken ankle in the loss to Miami.
He whispered: "That's also part of patience."