GLENDALE, Ariz.-- Collin Klein could only stare and watch as the final seconds of his college career ticked away. Oregon would hand him a 35-17 loss at the Fiesta Bowl in his final game, an ugly offensive performance that featured a pair of interceptions, a pair of touchdowns and one painful finale.
With glassy eyes shadowed underneath his helmet, he congratulated a few of the Ducks before joining his teammates and locking arms, grabbing a spot on the front row in the middle of the final CatPack of his life.
He and his teammates trotted off the field for the last time. Together.
"It's hard," Klein said, "It's not the way any of us wanted to go out."
Coach Bill Snyder collected his team in the locker room and delivered his final address of the season. He thanked his players for the work they put in, but most importantly, he reminded them that no one thought they'd be playing in this game. No one thought these seniors would end their careers as Big 12 champions, even if they couldn't be Fiesta Bowl champions, too.
He finished his remarks and dismissed the team before sharing a few words and a hug with Klein before the two went out the door to answer questions at a postgame news conference.
"Everybody might not see us as the most talented team in America, but we hang our hat on toughness, giving the greatest efffort we can do and this dude sums it up," linebacker Arthur Brown said of Klein. "Probably one of the toughest dudes I ever met."
He was tough enough to carry his team to 10 wins a year ago when some wondered if the 'Cats were good enough to reach a bowl game. He was tough enough to carry K-State to 11 wins and a Big 12 title this season when it was picked to finish sixth in the league. Along the way, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Thursday's bittersweet performance won't be easy to swallow, but as players dressed, there were a whole lot more hugs than tears. A whole lot of promises to stay in touch as careers ended and brothers went their separate ways.
"This was a fantastic year for us, we did a lot of things when people didn't believe in us," running back John Hubert said. "It was great. We like proving people wrong. Every year since I've been here, we always hear we couldn't do this or couldn't do that. Just to go out and prove people wrong and win is a great feeling."
That's what these Cats will always be remembered for. They're the team that did what no other in K-State history did: Reached No. 1 in the BCS standings. They're also a team that lost two of its final three games and let a chance at a national title slip through its fingers, but time will provide perspective, and many of the Wildcats already possessed it not long after their season had ended.
"The Big 12 championship, when we got that 11th win and beat Texas, seeing that crowd rush the field," Hubert said. "Holding up that Big 12 Championship Trophy and for it to be in our locker room is one of the greatest things we've done."
Added linebacker Justin Tuggle: "I hope we're remembered for the good things we did, and not for the two slip-ups we had."
These Wildcats absolutely will be remembered for those moments. Klein's interception on the final pass attempt of his career will fade away. So will Cornelius Lucas' second-quarter false start on fourth-and-1 that led to a missed field goal by Anthony Cantele and the loss of every bit of momentum the Wildcats had built after falling behind 15-0 and giving up a 94-yard return for a score from Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas on the game's opening kick.
"It had a significant impact on the outcome of the ballgame," Snyder said of the false start.
Well, Snyder had a significant impact on the individual lives of his players and the community in Manhattan, too. Those false starts and missed tackles and missed opportunities will fade away. That Big 12 trophy and Klein's memories from a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation never, ever will.
Kansas State's season ended with a difficult loss and the extension of a bowl drought that now stretches beyond a decade. K-State wishes it could have won this game. Any one of the Wildcats would have told you that. But they'd also tell you that a loss in this game does little to diminish the accomplishments of the 2012 team, which will go down in history as one of the best in school history.