Dec. 29, 2000
LOS ANGELES - Purdue kicker Travis Dorsch has tried to bury the nightmare deep in the back of his mind.
An extra point - missed.
A 40-yard field goal - missed.
A 38-yard, game-winning field goal - missed.
A 43-yard, game-tying field goal - missed.
And a bowl game lost.
"At that point in my life, I was crushed," Dorsch said nearly a year after Purdue lost in the Outback Bowl. "It was the worst day of my life."
Few probably would have criticized Dorsch if he'd packed it in right then and decided to concentrate on his other sport - baseball.
He didn't. Instead, Dorsch returned this season more determined to accept the usual risks that go along with placekicking.
On Monday, when the 14th-ranked Boilermakers play No. 4 Washington in the Rose Bowl, Dorsch will be kicking, again.
"How could you not want to do well?" Dorsch said. "This is the biggest game of my life and my team's life.
"Internally, I'm a perfectionist and when you're on this big a stage, the mistakes are only magnified."
As Dorsch knows all too well.
The debacle in last year's Outback Bowl allowed Georgia to rally from a 25-0 deficit for a 28-25 overtime victory - the largest comeback in bowl history.
Throughout the offseason, whenever the topic of the season finale came up, Dorsch's name seemed soon to follow.
"You almost have to have a shell around you," he said. "You have to almost isolate yourself and live, in a sense, in a vacuum. You have to stay very even-keeled."
So what Dorsch did was to follow the advice of his coaches and teammates by forgetting about it.
"I think the biggest thing we did was remind him that he was the only one on the team who was expected to play abosultely perfect and not be human in nature," coach Joe Tiller said. "A receiver can drop a pass, a defensive player can miss a tackle, but if he misses a kick, all of a sudden the world's coming to an end.
Those words allowed Dorsch to begin anew.
His resolve was tested when Purdue lost at Penn State on Sept. 30 and Dorsch found himself practically reliving that nightmare all over again.
Two botched punts led to 14 Penn State points, and when Dorsch missed a 46-yard field goal with 2:27 to go, the Boilermakers found themselves staring at a 22-20 loss.
In the aftermath, Tiller decided Dorsch had too much on his plate as both the kicker and punter.
"I wanted him to spend a little more time focusing on placements," he said. "But he isn't out of punting. We'll revisit that in the spring."
Dorsch was diappointed.
"That was very difficult because punting was my goal all along," he said. "Punting is my passion but kicking is what I do because I can. So that really got to me more than anything."
The next week, with the Boilermakers' Rose Bowl hopes on the line against Michigan, Purdue rallied from a 28-10 halftime deficit and needed only a 32-yard field goal from Dorsch to take the lead with 2:27 left.
Again, he missed.
Then, given a second chance with four seconds left, Dorsch finally hit a 33-yarder for a 32-31 victory. Yet Dorsch accepts little credit.
"It was a very good feeling," he said. "People think about how the kicker wins or loses a game. But by no means did I win that game. The defense won that game, I was just blessed to be out there."
Dorsch could say much the same thing now that he's preparing for an even bigger game - the Rose Bowl - with even more pressure resting on his foot.
Only this time, Dorsch will play with a very different perspective given his New Year's Day misadventure one year ago.
"Anytime you have a failure like that, you have to reach within yourself and try to correct what went wrong," Dorsch said. "I've tried to do that, and the rewards come every Saturday."
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer