Red Smith, the poet laureate of sweat, once wrote that 90 feet between bases is the nearest to perfection that man has yet achieved. The basepath has nothing on the length of college football's regular season, which, with the patience of a kindergarten teacher and the tenacity of Scotland Yard, identified Florida State and Auburn as the two best teams to play for the BCS National Championship.
Tenacity is the lifeblood of a sport that demands physical and mental exertion for 60 minutes. Patience, not so much. Patience in college football is attributed to tailbacks who wait for a hole to appear. But in a sport in which a quarterback may have three seconds to complete a pass without getting his slobber knocked, patience often goes untapped.
Yet patience has never been more important than it has been in 2013, and not just because it was nearly midnight on the final Saturday of the regular season before Michigan State proved that Ohio State didn't have the credentials to play for the crystal football. In a season made predictable only by its unpredictability, patience became the coin of the realm.
Patience rewarded no fans more than at Auburn. It didn't take any patience to appreciate the rapid rise of the Tigers from 3-9 in 2012 to 12-1 this year. But the way that the Tigers waited until the very end to upend Georgia on a Hail Mary tipped pass and defeat archrival No. 1 Alabama on a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown, focused upon the power of faith no matter what reality promised.
Patience proved critical at Florida State, not because head coach Jimbo Fisher decided to start a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Jameis Winston played with poise and the acumen of an upperclassman as the Seminoles cruised to a 13-0 record (12 wins by at least 27 points). But Florida State fans had to hold their collective garnet-and-gold breath for several weeks before local authorities decided not to charge Winston in a sexual assault case.
Patience paid off at Missouri, which had endured a 5-7, injury-filled debut in the SEC in 2012. Coach Gary Pinkel revamped his training and practice methods, and took advantage of the depth that resulted from playing so many players in 2012. The Tigers won the SEC East and finished 11-2 this season.
Patience meant everything at USC, that is, once athletic director Pat Haden ran out of it. When Haden fired head coach Lane Kiffin five games into the season, Haden didn't even wait until the Trojans had left Los Angeles International Airport. He all but left Kiffin on the tarmac to find a way home.
From that 3-2 start, interim head coach Ed Orgeron preached to his emotionally battered team love and cookies. Orgeron reinstituted dessert at the training table and emotion on the practice field, and USC responded with six consecutive victories, including an upset of Stanford.
Who has more patience than George O'Leary? The veteran found his path to the BCS at Georgia Tech blocked by the Florida State juggernaut of the late 1990s. He saw his career screech to a dead end when Notre Dame hired and fired him in a one-week span in 2001 over inaccuracies in his résumé.
A dozen years later, O'Leary took Central Florida to the American championship and the school's first BCS berth.
Newfound patience fortified Minnesota coach Jerry Kill through the biggest health scare of his life. As he fought to overcome his epilepsy, his Gophers scrapped their way to an 8-4 season. Patience revealed the dedication of fans at Rice, which won its first outright conference title since 1957, at Michigan State, which won its first Big Ten championship since 1987, and at Duke, which won 10 games for the first time since forever.
Patience illustrated the talent of Boston College tailback Andre Williams, the forbearance of Texas coach Mack Brown and the competitive fire of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who led the injury-ravaged Bulldogs to seven wins before his knee left him crumpled as well.
And as the season ended, we saw patience being called upon at Alabama, whose two-year reign atop the sport ended on the short end of the War Damn Miracle. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman favorite for most of October before a knee injury hindered his mobility, didn't hesitate before deciding to delay his entrance into pro football for at least one more year.
They'll need a little patience at Ohio State, where a great season ended with a fourth consecutive season without a Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes' longest drought in 20 years. They began Saturday with a 24-game winning streak. They ended it with a one-game losing streak. In a season in which unpredictability reigned, belief in the power of the 12-game regular season (plus conference championships) to identify the best became its own reward.
All it took was a little patience.