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Saturday, November 6, 2010
Chris Petersen's quest for perspective

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

BOISE, Idaho -- Chris Petersen's answer was as crisp as his team's execution had been all sun-splashed afternoon.

When asked whether Boise State's 42-7 demolition of Hawaii was a statement game to the snobs of gridworld, the coach needed less than a second to respond.

Chris Petersen
Chris Petersen is 57-4 as head coach at Boise State.

"No," he said. "Probably not. I think we're the same old Broncos."

This answer demanded a follow-up. Coach Pete, consider the following:

• Your team completely dominated an opponent that lurked just outside the AP, USA Today and Harris Poll top-25s and had won six straight games.

• Your team won by five touchdowns despite a minus-3 turnover margin, which just about never happens.

• Your offense rolled up a school-record 737 yards despite giving the starters most of the fourth quarter off.

• Your Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback completed 19 straight passes at one point and threw for 507 yards.

• Your defense held the nation's No. 1 passing offense a whopping 244 yards below its season average.

• Your defense pitched a shutout for three quarters against a team averaging 39 points a game.

• Your defense made the nation's No. 2 receiver basically disappear, holding him to two catches for 10 yards.

If your Boise State team can do all that and it still doesn't qualify as a statement game, will anything ever serve as a suitably loud statement to a skeptical nation?

"I don't [think so]," Petersen said. "I really don't."

But you've made your peace with that?

"Totally."

He won't waste any breath or energy campaigning for 8-0 Boise State to be ranked high enough to play in the BCS Championship Game. Not even on a day when more Establishment contenders were swept away, either in defeat (Alabama and Oklahoma) or in lackluster victory (Nebraska). Not even on a day when his team played up to its No. 2 ranking in the human polls.

That is why Chris Petersen is a unique college football animal. All that BCS stuff is just background noise to be tuned out while on a self-contained quest to build the best team possible.

That is not necessarily the same as building the team voters and computers love the most (or second-most, given that being second in those areas is as good as being first). Those dynamics sit beyond Petersen's control -- and unless he is a gifted fibber, the coach seems to have an admirable ability to not obsess on such things.

"I think he just likes the purity of the game, and his relationships with the coaches and the players," said Petersen's wife, Barbara. "Sometimes the national perspective can interfere with that."

The purist's peace of mind is built on healthy perspective. And that perspective was on heartwarming display Saturday, personified by the presence of Stephen Kinsey, 12-year-old assistant coach for a weekend.

Kinsey lives in San Antonio, but he grew up a Boise fan after seeing their blue field on television in 2002. He is suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation inquired a few weeks ago with Boise State to see whether Kinsey could spend a weekend with the Broncos.

Stephen Kinsey
Make-A-Wish recipient Stephen Kinsey joined Boise State as an assistant coach this weekend.

"I was thinking, 'Is he talking about the Denver Broncos?'" Petersen said, perhaps still lacking a full grasp on his program's nascent national appeal.

The college game has many generous coaches who donate time and money to charities, but it also has its fair share of tunnel-visioned men who, during the season, view just about everything outside of football as a nuisance or a distraction. That's why Petersen's gesture this weekend was remarkable: He invited Kinsey and his family to be part of the experience for a big game in the middle of an undefeated season.

The Broncos gave a sick kid the royal treatment.

On Friday, Stephen had a tour of campus, went to the coaches' meetings, ate lunch with the Boise quarterbacks and went to practice. At the end of that, he got to break down the team huddle and was given a signed helmet.

On game day, Stephen got to tailgate with Barbara Petersen and had his picture taken with the Boise cheerleaders. He was in the locker room with the Broncos and then led them out onto the field, carrying a smaller version of the team's talisman, a sledgehammer. He got to keep that to take home.

Stephen was outfitted in a Boise coaching shirt and khaki pants, and he even got to listen to part of the game on the coaches' headset. His description of the experience: "Exciting. Cool."

Petersen's backstory makes this generous gesture more understandable. His son Sam had a brain tumor and cancer of the spine as a toddler. Sam survived and is doing well now, but the lessons learned from that traumatic time will never be lost on the coach and his wife.

"That has helped Chris in a lot of different areas in his coaching career," Barbara Petersen said. "I think it changed his trajectory a bit."

It made Chris Petersen a stayer, not a striver. A guy with a 57-4 career record -- say that out loud, 57-4 -- hasn't needed the money and fame and ego strokes of jobs at schools with higher profiles.

He watched his Boise predecessors, Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins, move on to misery at Arizona State and Colorado. He watched his son struggle to live. He learned. He appreciated.

"Boise is as good as it could be," Barbara Petersen said. "The job can be so hard. If you're happy where you are, why mess it up?"

Chris Petersen is happy where he is. Happy chasing perfection at Boise State. Happy at No. 4 in the highly imperfect BCS rankings.

No more statements necessary.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.