I'll always remember the morning of Jan. 1, 2011 as the high point for the UConn football program. It was a moment where anything was possible.
The Huskies were still a few hours away from playing Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and, while every commentator with a microphone and bad combover had picked the Sooners in a romp, there was still that outside chance UConn could pull off the upset.
After all, Bob Stoops and his program had become notorious for blowing the big game, and Randy Edsall was the darling coach of the moment, hailed for taking UConn's no-name, no-reputation program to the BCS.
I remember sitting on a friend's couch that morning, recovering from an enjoyable New Year's Eve, watching one of the random college football preview shows on whatever channel the TV happened to be stuck on (I think it was ESPN, but who knows). The analysts were talking about the game and one of them said “I think the Sooners will win this, but UConn is going to give them a real fight.”
That was the high point. UConn's arrival on the national scene was a real possibility. Had they ground out a win against the ever-shaky Stoops and his crew, the Huskies would have announced, loudly and proudly, that UConn was no longer just a basketball school.
Oh, how long ago that feels now.
Ever since that morning, the football program has been stuck in a painful downward spiral.
Oklahoma thumped UConn, vidicating every “the Huskies don't belong in this game” pinhead columnist and analyst who spent a month saying exactly that. Then UConn's head coach caught the red-eye to Maryland, making a quick call to his soon-to-be former school and players to let them know he was on to bigger and better things.
Then UConn held a “methodical” search for a new head coach. They settled on Paul Pasqualoni.
Then....well, if you're reading this blog you know the rest. It's been a bad, bumpy and discouraging ride, and it all seemed to culminate on Thursday night.
I'm not going to rehash the game because Mac already did a fine job of summing up what a disaster that shit stain of a performance was, but what I haven't been able to shake is how quickly this program has fallen, and how far it seems the road back will be.
In two years and one game, it seems any momentum left over from that Fiesta Bowl appearance and the years of success that preceded it has been wiped away completely. It feels like things are back to square one again... back to irrelevancy.
We have a tendency to diminish what Randy Edsall did at UConn because of the cowardly way he ran out of town. He preached “loyalty” and “family” while at Storrs, but abandoned those principles himself when a new job and new payday came calling.
Yet, Edsall helped make UConn relevant in college football. The program won some big contests against brand name schools like Notre Dame and South Carolina, tied for two conference titles, went to four straight bowl games, and appeared in the BCS. It was enough to earn UConn the title of fastest growing program in college football.
It's a resume worthy of praise, even if the man turned out not to be.
Off of that, UConn had the chance to build something.
Dreams of being a National Championship contender were always pipe-shaped in nature, but establishing itself as one of the best second-tier programs in the country was certainly within reach. And despite Edsall's success, there seemed real room for improvement, considering the old football coach was never mistaken for being a great recruiter or in-game strategist.
A new, hungry coach with vision had the chance - the chance - to take the program higher than Edsall had.
That chance seems to have been squandered, and last night was the last nail in the coffin of such hope.
Meachem said it Thursday night in the Open Thread of the game, and I'll reiterate it here: There is no buzz around this program. Forget buzz... there is no life.
Last night - opening night of a new season in a new conference - drew an announced crowd of a little over 30,000 people. That's about 10,000 less than what Rentschler Field can hold, and most reporters covering the game determined there were even less people in the stands when the contest started. Blame the fans all you want, but what UConn did on the field Thursday night shows why the crowd was so sparse to begin with.
Losing to Towson isn't just about Paul Pasqualoni and his job, from which he should be removed 1.2 seconds after the final game of the season. This is about the reset button his two uninspiring years of futility mixed with moments of mediocrity have pushed on this program.
I, like many, believed that Pasqualoni was the wrong guy from the get-go, but that was based on the idea that UConn needed a young, vibrant coach to take what Edsall had done and expand on it. I was looking for a guy that would become a cheerleader for the school - a coach that was both great motivator and great salesman. Someone who could improve the quality of the football on the field and promote the program off it.
Pasqualoni - a nice man and a good football lifer - was utterly uninspiring. He was one of those coaches that is just... there. He couldn't inspire someone to wake up early in the morning for breakfast, let alone a group of players to outperform their own talent, or a still-hesitant fan base to buy completely and totally into football.
But what I didn't think, what I never thought was possible was a night like Thursday. I thought Pasqualoni would keep the status quo. I never thought he'd sink the ship.
Yet, that's where we're at. The boat is taking on water and Pasqualoni is trying to plug the holes by continuing to talk about “working hard.”
Losing to Towson is one thing. Being manhandled by an FCS team is quite another.
The eternal UConn optimist will now point to the fact that it's one game. If UConn were to rattle off a miracle season, beating Michigan and Louisville and representing the American in the last year of the BCS, then Towson will simply be a foot note in the book on Pasqualoni's ultimate vindication. Maybe that happens... but I doubt it. I seriously, seriously doubt it.
What's more likely is that Thursday night's utter embarrasment is a harbinger of things to come. This will most likely be another lost season... another year where UConn fans, who aren't starving for sports entertainment with NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL teams galore from which to choose, tune out of the football season well before Halloween, waiting patiently for Kevin Ollie and his band of merry ballers to take the court.
It will be another year of irrelevancy for a program that such a short time ago was on the fast track to viability.
Sometimes two years and one game can feel like a lifetime. And when one of those games is a crushing loss to Towson at home in front of an already disinterested fan base, it can seem like forever.
I don't know when the road back to relevancy begins, but I do know it won't be this season or with this coaching staff.