Somewhere in every football coach's desk drawer, no doubt, there's a folder with a laundry list of all the things that can go wrong.
Coaches are like that. Don't like to leave anything to chance. Hate surprises.
And it's always something — particularly that first year when taking over a program.
After a while McNeese State head coach Frank Wilson had to be afraid to check the folder.
What in tarnation could still be lurking in there?
But Wilson had to think he had checked all the boxes while waiting more than a year for his Cowboys debut.
It's well documented.
No spring or in-person team meetings due to that pandemic thing. One hurricane, then another. A home field turned into a lake. No weight room. Scrambling to find places for players to live, never mind they had nowhere to practice, let alone lift weights and other footbally things.
Throw in the bite the NCAA transfer portal took out of the team and the only thing left in that folder had to be the biblical frog and locust plagues.
But the Cowboys got through it. Wilson still didn't know a lot about his team but, maybe as a reward for all their travails, they got the honor of playing the NCAA's first spring football game, a pandemic perk if you will. Someplace off the beaten path like Stephenville, Texas, OK, but they found it and Tarleton State was there waiting.
They dialed up temperatures somewhere between Arctic and Antarctic, of course, just to prove that 2020 wasn't completely behind them.
It wasn't easy.
Nothing is going to be, apparently, for the Cowboys this season.
An early 10-0 lead didn't take.
Playing into the wind for the second and third quarters turned out to be a meteorological brick wall.
So they trailed by two touchdowns, with 3 minutes to play.
Well, the effort was there.
But danged if the offense didn't wake up. Cody Orgeron threw two touchdown passes sandwiched around a perfectly executed onside kick, and then Orgeron scored again in the second overtime for a walk-off 40-37 win.
The so-called "McNeese Miracle," which was supposed to describe just fielding a team this year, suddenly had new meaning. It was now attached to a great victory, surely one of the school's greatest comebacks of all time.
The postgame locker room was quite a scene. Better yet, it was warm.
"It was full of emotion," Wilson recalled. "You can see the sigh of relief. Guys are exasperated, but finally, we played the game, we got through the game and we were victorious. We were victorious for Lake Charles, victorious for McNeese. All those emotions.
"It was just a game. But it was so much bigger than just a game for us and what we went through. We had 100 or so (fans) there who sat out there in the frigid weather."
So there was a little extra bounce in the team's step on the way to the buses.
Wilson settled into his seat on one of the three buses, the one carrying the offense. Probably feeling pretty smug. They'd be returning home as conquering heroes, having jump-started the Wilson Era at McNeese.
So they were pulling onto the driveway outside the stadium when …
"What was that!?" Wilson hollered.
It probably wasn't on the what-can-go-wrong-next? checklist.
But the Cowboys, the offense at least, were stuck.
"We're in the snow," somebody shouted from the back of the bus.
"Well, speed it up," Wilson yelled at the bus driver.
Wasn't happening. Back, forward, tire spinning … still stuck.
They were stuck in what Wilson referred to as a "divot" in the driveway. The bottom of the back of the bus was wedged on the concrete. The tire was in the "divot," getting traction from nothing but cold air.
Team ready to go home. Bus wasn't moving.
No problem, right? There was plenty of room in the other two buses to accommodate the displaced offense.
But the medical staff wouldn't hear of it. They were in three buses to begin with so they could social distance to and fro. And there was a round of COVID19 testing scheduled for the next day.
So they were stuck.
Wilson had just told them that, if everything goes right, they just might make a movie about this team.
If so, Wilson said. "This is the point of the movie that is the punch line."
Bottom line: "We need all of y'all to get off the bus and push this thing," Wilson said.
"They're like … ‘Seriously?'"
Seriously. The offense thought its work was done with the two late touchdowns and the winner.
But, after an hour of different opinions and points of attack, they had one more push in them and the three little busses were on their way home.
At about 50 mph tops, due to the icy roads — turning a seven-hour trip into nine hours.
Every team has a 24-hour celebration rule. For a while it looked like the Cowboys might spend it all on the bus.
"The thrill of victory made it so sweet that nobody complained," Wilson said. "We enjoyed the ride back, we enjoyed one another."
They didn't arrive home until 9 a.m.
Wilson told the coaches to be back at noon.
"Got to grade the film," he said.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU
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