It is natural for human beings to ascribe some sense of order or reason to what seems like pure chaos. It's a coping mechanism.
Right now, players and coaches for and fans of Boston College are searching for answers for what happened Wednesday in Dallas for what may be known as the First Responder Bowl That Was, Then Wasn't. Football was played in the Eagles' game against Boise State, but the heavens quite literally intervened and prevented BC from earning its first eight-win season since 2009.
In a quest for something tangible to explain this collective emotional "emptiness," as BC coach Steve Addazio aptly described, there are clear facts and unclear feelings.
The game, which kicked off at roughly 1:30 p.m. Eastern, came to a halt from a lightning strike that, according to BC athletic director Martin Jarmond, zigged when it should have zagged.
"The strike that stopped the game was not projected before to hit us," Jarmond lamented, "and it did."
Now, if you want to boil that down, there's nothing predictable about any lightning, ever, but if one were to make a reasonable, educated guess as to where it might strike, it would be pretty unsettling if it hit closer than expected.
Before that moment, Boston College led, 7-0, on a 19-yard AJ Dillon touchdown run in a first quarter that the Eagles largely dominated. The sophomore running back looked every bit 100 percent healed from an ankle injury that hampered most of his season. Even without also-banged-up defensive end Zach Allen, the Eagles were controlling the points of attack on both sides of the ball.
In other words, the Eagles had every reason to be optimistic before Mother Nature stepped in.
According to Jarmond, there was initial discussion "trending" toward a mere delay, but the threat of a storm that, in his words, would be "five times bigger," forced the hand of all parties involved, and the game was canceled. Safety concerns trumped the hopes to put a neat bow on the season the day after Christmas.
Instead, there's a holiday hangover for a game that will have its statistics wiped from all official NCAA records. So Dillon's touchdown happened, but didn't, in a game that neither team won nor lost, even more unsatisfying and existential than a tie. Some ado about nothing.
When the game was finally called off, Addazio thanked each senior in what can only be imagined as a stunned locker room, and did his best to describe that feeling later. But the expression on his face conveyed more than his words could. He was in shock.
It marked a bizarre end to an at times bizarre season. The Eagles made their way into the top 25 multiple times, only to lose their last three games. The first, to Clemson on an ESPN primetime showdown that brought College Gameday to Chestnut Hill, was just competitive enough to not crush the team's spirits. They lost to a better team. It happens.
Then, with a 7-3 record and a realistic shot at a 10-win season, the Eagles went in a tailspin. It started with a last-minute tumble in Tallahassee to a historically-bad Florida State team. That seemed to carry over into the regular season finale, where Syracuse came to Alumni Stadium and crushed the Eagles by 21 points.
With the prospects of a true, breakthrough season for Addazio and Co. dashed, that smaller step forward of an elusive, eight-win year was all that remained.
And right when the Eagles could almost touch it, an electric, white flash from the sky snuffed it out.
Maybe, from a cruelly deterministic perspective, nothing about BC finishing 2018 with a 7-5 record feels different for this program. Of course a wayward band of lightning got in the way. Something had to, right? If anyone affiliated with the Eagles wants to use that line of thinking to make this any easier, have at it.
But Jarmond's message to the team is closest to the truth, and in the end most meaningful for a sport that is played by people in their late teens and early 20s.
"I'm proud of the guys, and I'm proud of the way they handled the decision, and this life," Jarmond said. "And that's what I said to the team: 'This is life. Life throws you a curveball, and you've got to respond, and you've got to catch it.' And we'll bounce back."
That's the right thing to say, and it could prove prophetic, but bouncing back from something that technically didn't happen is about as easy as accurately predicting where lightning strikes. So, perhaps, the Eagles are best left to leave pattern recognition to everyone else, and hope the weather's a little better in 2019.