I should've been smiling.
Ball State had just shown a rare sign of perseverance. It had completed a comeback. It had finally beaten adversity.
This was a joyous occasion.
Only, it didn't feel that way.
The aftermath of Ball State's 37-30 double-overtime win against Akron was more depressing than the game was exciting.
Players had a little extra pep and spirit when they sang the postgame fight song. But unless you include the marching band, which is required to stay all game, they sang to an empty student section.
Nobody was there. Nobody cared.
(The official attendance was 5,377. It looked as if that number counted everybody twice, including players, coaches, officials and the dance team.)
It was one of the starkest contrasts we've seen between Ball State Football Present and Ball State Football 2008. It begged the question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a noise?
To fully understand where this program is, you need to know the following:
1. Akron is unquestionably the country's worst team. Zippy improved — is that the word? — the nation's longest losing streak to 10 games. Their title of college football's worst is not debatable.
2. The Zips should have won this game. They were one illegal formation call against the kicker from winning in regulation. It wasn't until an Akron defender dropped a potential game-winning interception — and receiver Jack Tomlinson caught the loose ball for his third touchdown — that you felt Ball State was in control. It looked as if Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning was playing "jackpot." He's lucky the right guy caught the ball.
3. This isn't the first time the Cardinals struggled at home against one of the nation's worst teams. Ball State ended Eastern Michigan's 18-game losing streak earlier this fall. A loss to Akron would have been just as embarrassing.
Put it all together, and one thing is clear. Losing to Akron would've been better in the long-term context than narrowly escaping against college football's worst team in double overtime.
Allow me to explain.
I'm happy for the players. The hard work they put in each week finally translated into a victory. The constant losing — Ball State had lost 19 of its previous 23 games — had to be draining. But in the bigger picture, the victory was insignificant.
After needing double overtime before beating a horrible Akron team at home, we can all agree Stan Parrish does not have Ball State's football program in an acceptable position. The Cardinals are a bye week opponent. Ninety percent of Football Bowl Subdivision teams don't need to show up to beat them.
Ball State's third win this season — one more than last fall — fails to disguise that sad truth.
A second home loss to the proverbial worst team in the FBS would've demanded athletics director Tom Collins' attention. Collins, notoriously a reactive manager who refuses to do anything unless he has no choice, would have been forced to at least consider firing Parrish after the season.
Maybe losing to Akron would have cost Parrish his job. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered. But a loss would've been worth not having Parrish's influence on this program and around these young players next fall.
I know you're tired of me harping on Parrish. I'm just as tired of writing about him. But nothing — let me repeat, nothing — about Ball State's football program matters until Parrish is booted. Why would I write about anything else?
As I rode a packed elevator from the press box to field level after the game, a Ball State fan gushed about what he'd just watched. From Tomlinson's game-saving catch to the comeback to the double overtime, Saturday's game was certainly exciting.
It just didn't make a noise.