NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- It was not a time for football, Georgia Tech, or national polls. It was a time for Bobby Ross to talk to his father, Bus. It was a time for Ross to get back to Williamsburg (Va.) Community Hospital and check on his 80-year-old mother. It was a time for prayer because the vigil had ended.
But football is Bobby Ross' chosen path and by late afternoon yesterday that path had reached an obligation. He broke away from his private ordeal, donned his public role of Georgia Tech's coach, and made a teleconference call.
The country was waiting. Ross had coached the Yellow Jackets to a 45-21 victory over Nebraska in the New Year's Day Citrus Bowl. At 11-0-1, Georgia Tech was the only unbeaten team in the Division I-A ranks.
Still, Colorado, a 10-9 winner over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, was voted national champion by The Associated Press, the most prestigious of the college football polls. With an 11-1-1 record, the Buffaloes were only the second once-beaten and once-tied team to be so honored.
USA Today's poll also had voted Colorado No. 1. Georgia Tech was second in both. The United Press International's poll, released later, had Georgia Tech No. 1 and Colorado No. 2.
Ross didn't know about UPI's vote when he prepared for his teleconference call. He would explain why he felt his Yellow Jackets should be national champions. He would make it quick. Make it business-like. He would keep his emotions behind the shield of privacy for a while longer, then return to the situation of far more importance.
It would have been so easy to surrender to emotions. To back away and agonize over why 1990 had been so cruel, yet so kind.
"In 1990, I hit the lowest and the highest points of my life," he said. "I've had some things I had to deal with, things that couldn't get much lower. Then in terms of football, I couldn't have asked for anything more."
On Dec. 21, Martha Ross suffered a stroke and was rushed to Williamsburg Community Hospital. She was in critical condition when, two days later, her oldest son, Bobby, celebrated his 54th birthday.
Then came Christmas and it was sad this year. Bobby Ross' youngest granddaughter, Rebecca, died of a congenitive heart problem last spring.
Christmas is for kids. It's early-morning excitement and presents and hugs and that special glow from the lights and the love. Maybe it was good Ross didn't have time to dwell. He had to prepare his team for the Citrus Bowl.
Ross admitted he thought about his mother during the game. When he last heard, her condition was not good. He wanted to be in Williamsburg.
At the final gun, there was the victory ride atop his players' shoulders. Then the post-game ceremony in downtown Orlando, Fla., and the comments he made when accepting the Citrus Bowl trophy. There was boarding the private jet and flying to Williamsburg late New Year's night, learning his mother was in stable condition, making a slight recovery.
There was yesterday. The rain, the hours spent at his mother's bedside, the need to explain the situation to his aging father.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, thousands turned out to greet the football team at Dodd Stadium. The city proclaimed Georgia Tech "No. 1 in our hearts." School president John Patrick Crecine declared Friday a snow day, the best he could do to make a football holiday.
Players and coaches hinted they expected the worst to happen to their national championship chances, but couldn't stop hoping for the best.
"The players realized they had done what they could," defensive coordinator George O'Leary said shortly after Colorado was voted No. 1 by the AP. "The rest was left up to you people in the media who vote on the poll."
UPI's panel of coaches agreed the players had done all that was required. USA Today and AP made the Yellow Jackets the first unbeaten team since Southern Methodist (11-0-1) in 1982 to be passed over for a team (11-1 Penn State) with a loss.
Ross opened his late-afternoon teleconference by saying he would be brief because "I have some things I'm trying to take care of before I leave Williamsburg.
"I'm disappointed we weren't named No. 1, but I'm not waving a flag or criticizing anything. There are four reasons I thought we should have been No. 1.
"One is strength of schedule. Ten of the 12 teams we played had winning records. The second is our conference. The Atlantic Coast Conference sent five teams to bowl games and vindicated itself by winning three of the games. The third is a comparison of Colorado and Georgia Tech. I think our situation was very similar. The fourth reason is we're the only undefeated team in the country.
"Like I said, I'm disappointed. But it's over now as far as I'm concerned. There are a lot more important things in life to deal with than going from No. 2 to No. 1, or vice versa."
Bobby Ross continues to deal with those more important things. He had his conversation with his father and then he flew home to Atlanta.
The Citrus Bowl victory was the crown jewel in his best performance of 32 years of coaching. He had coached what he called a "blue-collar football team" to at least an asterisk as one organization's national champion.
But he never can draw on those wonderful memories without encountering all that had been cruel about 1990.
"All I'm trying to do now is keep an emotional level," he admitted. "These are big emotions. I've been pretty good at keeping them inside."
Growing older is one way a man is prepared for the tests of life. Bobby Ross knows that now. "I've done a lot better job with my emotions than I would have done in my younger years," he said.
Maybe that will help salve the memories of 1990 in years to come.