IT'S ENDING up the way he hoped. Tuesday night he'll be the starting quarterback when he plays the final game of his collegiate career in Anaheim Stadium. Dreams do come true. Well, sort of.
What Mike McCoy wished for, he's getting, but he must admit, the routing has been completely different than he'd imagined. Only the stadium has remained the same. The uniform, the teammates, the team, they've all changed."I guess I'd still be at Long Beach State . . ." says McCoy.
Yeah, if only they still had a team.
McCoy has seen a few things in his college days. He'll have plenty of stories to tell in his old age. And none more bizarre than the time he and his Long Beach State teammates were eating at the training table in December of 1991 and word came that all players were to report immediately to a meeting in the football office.
When they were assembled, they were told that the university was dropping football. Just like that. One minute they were teammates. The next minute they were former teammates.
"That left you with kind of an empty feeling," understates McCoy, who had just completed his first season as a redshirt freshman. He'd started five games at quarterback that year for the 49ers, which said a lot for a player who'd started out the year previous as a redshirt walk-on: the lowest, most anonymous form of humanity there is. And from that he'd turned into a starter. His future, as they say, was all ahead of him. Until the meeting. When it was all behind him.
The next day it got more bizarre. When the players came to clean out their lockers there were at least 50 or 60 coaches waiting for them - coaches from other places, coaches with teams.
Word had spread fast. Long Beach was having a fire sale on football players. Airlines around the country did a booming business on full fare tickets. The recruiters came from everywhere. The ex-49ers would not be huddled in the same lifeboat for very long.
McCoy, of course, went to Utah. The first coach who talked to him the morning after was the Utes' Dan Henson. First come, first served. In addition to Salt Lake City, McCoy also visited Wyoming and Oklahoma State that next week. He liked Utah. He thought he'd fit in best there.
Three bowl games, 49 touchdown passes, 7,404 passing yards, and two consecutive wins over BYU later, it's easy to argue that he was right.
If all good things must end, they at least ought to end in a bowl game, which is what has brought McCoy and the Utes here, to Anaheim. They meet Arizona Tuesday night in Freedom Bowl XI, where McCoy, already named a second team All-American, gets to show off the winningest team (9-2) in 101 years of University of Utah football.
Clearly, Long Beach did Utah a favor when it dropped football. And the Utes weren't alone. Tuesday's opponent, the Arizona Wildcats, also boast a 49er refugee. The Wildcats' Joe Smigel, who starts at offensive tackle, was a classmate of McCoy's.
Another ex-49er has already played in a bowl game - defensive back Malcolm Thomas of Central Michigan - and at least one other, defensive back Chad Wilson of the Miami Hurricanes, will be a bowl starter this season.
Any number of players from Long Beach's disbanded program have landed on their feet over the past three seasons. Running back Terrell Davis at Georgia is another example, and then there's Jay Walker, a backup quarterback this season as a rookie for the New England Patriots in the NFL. After Long Beach, Walker played collegiately at Howard before hooking up with the Patriots.
"We had some good players on that team," says McCoy. "Who knows what would have happened if we'd stayed together."
"I might not have played as much," he adds after a pause. "I might have spent most of my time playing behind Jay Walker."
He says he still keeps in touch with many of his former teammates. You go through a trauma like that together and it tends to bond you for life - or at least through college. "I'm not sure where everybody is," says McCoy, "but I can always find out. I'm always talking to guys from that team."
Wherever those old 49ers are, they'll be watching with a smile on their faces Tuesday night. At least one of them is ending up in Anaheim Stadium, where Long Beach used to play its home games. Well, make that two of them, counting Smigel. The difference is, in the old days Smigel would have been protecting McCoy. Now he'll be protecting somebody else.
But they're both still playing, and that's the point. Living examples that it's not over - even after they tell you it is.