BOWLING GREEN - In the end, there were not many on hand to witness Gary Blackney's final run through the Perry Stadium tunnel, his final march up and down the home sideline, or his last post-game handshake at midfield.
Only 6,646 fans came through the turnstiles yesterday for the last home game of the 10-year Blackney era at Bowling Green State University.
Ohio University spoiled his last hurrah by blocking a punt for a safety near the end of the third quarter to squeak out a 23-21 win.
“We did everything but win,” a somber Blackney said following the game that dropped the Falcons to 2-8. “It's just too bad. I feel bad for the seniors.”
While announcing his resignation about six weeks ago, Blackney said he felt like he was one of the seniors going through their final season.
Yesterday, he said he was too preoccupied with the emotional well-being of his 10 seniors to get caught up in his own feelings about the last Perry Stadium game day.
“I didn't feel anything, until I walked into that locker room and looked into the eyes of the seniors,” Blackney said.
Blackney was joined at the post-game press conference by senior captain D.J. Durkin. The defensive end said: “We're just frustrated,” before breaking down. He was unable to continue.
The game, the season, the past six campaigns have provided a mountain of frustration for Blackney.
After starting out 36-8-2 and winning two Mid-American Conference championships and claiming Bowling Green's first two and only bowl victories, Blackney has had six years of struggles.
He has gone 24-41 in the last six seasons, with only a Nov. 22 date at rival Toledo left in his BG coaching career.
This season his Falcons have been in every MAC game in the fourth quarter, and have held late leads in most.
“They've played so many people tough this season,” Ohio coach Jim Grobe said yesterday. “Those kids have played their hearts out for Gary.”
But the blocked punt, the missed field goal - it all added up to the same feeling the Falcons have felt all season long.
“For me, it's probably been the most frustrating season I've ever spent in football,” Blackney said last week. “It's not only the circumstances of my situation, but just to be in a position to win every one of those divisional games and then to lose them all has been really, really tormenting.”
Blackney's teams went 34-14-1 at Perry Stadium.
It was the scene of some of his finest moments. There were a couple of huge wins over Toledo, and the stunning 34-13 manhandling of undefeated Marshall in the 1998 season.
But as he exited the post-game interview room that is bunkered under Perry Stadium for the final time yesterday, Blackney's shoulders were down, his face flushed, his eyes losing the fight to hold back the tears.
He had been carried off that Perry Stadium field in victory, and hoisted the MAC championship trophy following earlier conquests.
But following his final home game, Blackney seemed to focus on consoling his players, and leave worrying about his memories later.
“We're all in this together,” Blackney said.