LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Teddy Bridgewater is beyond his years. He's as mature a young player who has ever come through the University of Louisville. But he has no idea what he did Thursday night. He can't.
You pull yourself off the bench with a broken wrist and a bad wheel to lead your team to a double-digit comeback in a game that wins the Big East Conference and a trip to a Bowl Championship Series game, it's something that doesn't go away with the next day's headlines.
Years from now, people will still remember the night Bridgewater played through a broken wrist to throw for 263 yards and two lightning-bolt touchdowns in 16 seconds that changed the storyline of a team and a program.
You do that when you're healthy, you're a hero. You do it with a broken wrist, and you're history. In a good way. There's no way Bridgewater can fully grasp that. Or can he?
"This is what you live for, the big moments," Bridgewater said. "That's what you go to college to play football for, moments like these. You just cherish the moment."
Or how about this moment. In a hallway, outside the locker room, U of L offensive coordinator Shawn Watson grabbed Bridgewater, embraced him, and did not let go.
Steve Ludden of HSReplays and CardinalSports.com was there with his video camera, and captured the emotion as Watson tearfully spoke into Bridgewater's shoulder pads.
"That was so awesome," Watson said, voice breaking. "I'm so proud of you. Man, that was awesome."
It was the same tone of a postgame embrace with head coach Charlie Strong captured by WDRB's Steve Andress, give or take a choice expletive or two. Strong can be forgiven.
It was one for the bleeping books.
Folks, on Monday of this week, Bridgewater could not walk on his sprained ankle. He began limited workouts on Wednesday, but still had difficulty moving. Even after the game, he was wearing some kind of black electric stimulus device on his wrist that looked like they pulled it off Darth Vader's costume.
Why not? The force was with him.
"They have a tremendous playmaker at the quarterback position," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "We just weren't able to match him. . . . Some of the throws that he made, I don't think there's anybody else in our league that can make them."
Strong prepared senior Will Stein all week as if he were going to start and play the game at quarterback. It was a wise move, and the only option, really. One of Stein's biggest contributions was in those practices, keeping the offense in a positive mindset, rallying teammates, showing leadership.
They warmed Bridgewater up, but the plan was to go with Stein, who started and won a game at Rutgers two years ago in a relief role. But the U of L offense could get very little going.
"Once I saw that we weren't finishing drives, I was just ready," Bridgewater said. "I had a good feeling deep down inside."
"We didn't know if he was going to go," Strong said. "He came up to me midway through the first quarter. I said to warm up. I gave our medical staff a game ball because they were able to get him ready."
Bridgewater didn't do it alone. In fact, on the game-changing 90 yard drives, the most remarkable individual plays were by receivers.
Andrell Smith adjusted to a floating ball by Bridgewater, turned completely around and hauled in a ball in traffic for 26 yards. Then tight end Ryan Hubbell came up with a ball that was low and a tad behind him for a 19-yard gain.
The TD, however, was pure Bridgewater. Despite an injured ankle, he slid over to avoid pressure, started running, then hit Jeremy Wright with a shovel pass that went 14 yards for the touchdown.
The defense made big plays. It forced a field goal after Bridgewater threw an interception. It hauled in another pick on a miscommunication by Rutgers to seal the game. The Scarlet Knights ran only 45 plays in the game -- the fewest for a U of L opponent since 1989. They managed only nine first downs.
But do not underestimate the inspirational power of Bridgewater.
"This was incredible," said Stein, who played his part, running for three first downs. "The will to win just overrides all obstacles."
Bridgewater, as he often does, got off the bus when it arrived at the stadium with receiver Eli Rogers, his friend from high school back in Miami. The players have a brotherly bond, even lived together for a time when Rogers' mother was battling AIDS at home. Bridgewater could help his friend, having watched his mother overcome breast cancer. When she was diagnosed, he wanted to quit football and take care of the family. She wouldn't have it. The two have been through everything together. Rogers picked U of L, and Bridgewater followed.
"Before we got off the bus, me and him had a one-on-one talk," Rogers said. "And I knew what time it was with him. I knew we could count on him. . . . It was just very emotional. I can say that."
There's plenty of that going around at U of L. The Cards made some huge plays to return to their second BCS bowl. A Rutgers fake punt for a touchdown came off the board because of a penalty. The Scarlet Knights made some offensive mistakes. The U of L defense made some of its biggest plays of the season.
But 20 years from now, more than anything, it'll be the play of Bridgewater that people remember. On a national stage, Bridgewater's performance amid injury was starting to draw national eyeballs. Johnny Manziel, star freshman quarterback at Texas A&M, took to Twitter to say: "Love the way Teddy Bridgewater is playing tonight. Playing hurt and still trying to will his team through this game. #Respect"
"His legacy at the University of Louisville just keeps on building, and he's only halfway through," offensive lineman Alex Kupper said. "Unbelievable player. The way he fights, if you're playing with him, if you do anything less, then shame on you. It's an honor to be out there protecting him."
Rumors swirled before the game that Strong had interviewed with Auburn, reports that he vehemently denied both before and after the game, and privately with his players. The safest bet? If Strong doesn't want to coach No. 5 next season, there will be a long line of people who do.
Guys like this don't come around very often. In fact, after a performance like Thursday, you could argue that they come along only once.
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