LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Teddy Bridgewater threw four touchdown passes in the University of Louisville's 72-0 blowout of Florida International, but the most memorable play he made came when the ball wasn't in his hand.
I was behind the corner of the end zone when Dominique Brown broke free for a 77-yard run. U of L was leading 17-0 and it was already clear that this was going to be no contest.
In the second half, clock operators were asked by officials to keep the clock running when the ball went out of bounds and on the occasional incomplete pass. It was an "unofficial" arrangement, reportedly agreed to by both coaches -- though FIU coach Ron Turner denied agreeing to it or knowing anything about it. Too bad. He won't know where to send the "Thank You" card . They could've called off the fourth quarter and nobody would've cared.
But Bridgewater cared, and the evidence came on Brown's run. He was rambling toward the end zone, and FIU players were catching up to him. He was brought down at the one-yard line, then I looked over on the goal line to see a U of L player getting up off the ground where he'd tangled with a defender trying to spring Brown with a block.
The player was wearing No. 5.
So here was Bridgewater, the Heisman candidate, 80 yards downfield trying to throw a block for his running back to score a touchdown in a game where points were about as plentiful as candy corn on Halloween.
"Our coaches preach relentless effort and strain," Bridgewater said. "So I was just trying to strain to help a guy get into the end zone."
Forget the game. The game was meaningless. It was a punch line. I'm still trying to figure out what the joke was. The Cards scored 72 points and gave up 30 yards. They covered the 42.5-point spread, and might've covered the next game, too. The toughest part of it might've been the pre-game walk-through. Strong didn't like what he saw on Friday and pulled his team back off the field, sent them back to the locker room and told them they'd keep doing things till they got it right.
Reporters started asking Strong about this impressive stat or that after the game and even he said: "You have to look at the competition. FIU is not a very good football team right now. They're rebuilding."
Bridgewater threw for 212 yards, and if you're just looking at stats and figuring out who had a good week among Heisman hopefuls, you're not too impressed.
But do that, and you miss what the guy is about. This isn't about showing up at a P.R. event or saying the right thing in a news conference. It's not about visiting a fan in the hospital or even with kids from a cancer charity -- which U of L coaches and players did after the game Saturday. It's about running 80 yards downfield in a blowout to try to spring a guy with a block, on a play that nobody much is going to remember or even necessarily note.
Bridgewater doesn't just seem to do and say the right things off the field. He does the little things on the field.
"When your best player is down there, it speaks volumes," Strong said.
Brown, who got the ball to finish the job with a one-yard scoring run on the next play, said, "Our coaching staff says, everybody has to cover. To see your quarterback down there trying to get an extra block to finish the run, I don't know if he got it, but it's phenomenal."
Bridgewater was already in flip-flops when he showed up for the post-game news conference. He's had four games his season, and played four quarters only once. When told that there are cities mounting "tank for Teddy" campaigns to try to get him in the NFL Draft, he said he doesn't pay any attention. When asked if he liked the phrase, he smiled wide and said, "Not at all, not at all."
Before the game, on ESPN's College GameDay, Tom Rinaldi reprised his report on Bridgewater and his mother, Rose Murphy, from earlier this year.
Last fall, when U of L went to Miami to play at FIU, WDRB's Pat Doney and I went to one of the neighborhoods where Bridgewater and Eli Rogers grew up. There had been a drive-by shooting a block away three days before. A car pulled up and fired shots into a vacant house with an AK-47 rifle. The block had been closed off.
Before the season, Bridgewater described his childhood, saying his mom had to move the family more than a dozen times while he was growing up. From one neighborhood to the next, they were all pretty much the same, he said.
"Projects on every corner, the corner store, the funeral home, club here, club there," Bridgewater said. "Not many escape that, but I'm blessed."
Bridgewater, unlike most, was not tempted by the streets. When Strong talks about his team needing to turn off the "noise in the system," Bridgewater is not one he's worried about. Bridgewater has been doing it his whole life.
"I knew my purpose," he said. "The outside influences, I can put on the back burner. I never thought about other kids having it better or worse. Everywhere we moved, I was able to adapt. I played basketball, football, baseball, ran some track."
When his mother fell ill, she wasn't about to let him stop playing. She recognized his gift, and gave him one in return. She kept sending him out the front door.
"I find myself calling or texting my mom and saying, 'Thank you for raising me the way you did, and telling me, you better get back out there on track,'" Bridgewater said. "Because looking back, there was nothing for me back there. If I had not stuck with football and with school, I don't know where I would be right now."
After Saturday's game, U of L's players from South Florida met on the field with many of the FIU players they knew, had grown up with, had played little league with.
Bridgewater greeted E.J. Hilliard, his friend and the player who replaced him at quarterback at Miami Northwestern High School.
"He was saying how proud he was of me," Hilliard said. "He told me he loved me, good game and to keep my head up, to get the guys fired up and hungry."
Bridgewater revels in his role model status.
"Where I'm from right now, people would call me a superhero," he said in July. "I'm doing what all the children back in Miami dreamed of doing, being on national TV, impacting lives. You kind of feel that as a responsibility, to not let people down."
Meeting his friends from back in South Florida on the field after the game, he said, was a good moment for all the Miami guys who made it to a college football field, no matter what the score.
"It was a special moment to be reunited with those guys," he said. ". . . Whenever we come together it's always a special reunion. It was just a great feeling being able to take pictures and smile with your brothers."
Saturday, on what could have been a forgettable afternoon, Bridgewater still managed to deliver a memorable moment or two -- and not by throwing a pass.