NORMAN â€” The Fiesta Bowl represents finality for Carl Pendleton. It was there, against Boise State in 2007, that Pendleton played his final game for the Oklahoma Sooners.
The game will be remembered by most for Boise State's statue-of-liberty two-point conversion. But for Pendleton, it will be remembered for that and so much more.
â€œI wasn't tricked at all,â€ Pendleton said of Boise's now infamous play. â€œI saw the ball get tucked. I was too far away and too slow to do anything about it.â€
It ended up being the final play of Pendleton's career.
Just a junior at the time with another year of eligibility, Pendleton didn't leave football for the NFL or because of an injury.
He left football for his family.
He left football to help care for Kierstan, a biological cousin who came into the world with crack cocaine racing through his veins. The decision has had a profound impact on both their lives the past four years.
Pendleton's parents, Carl, Sr., and Nechia, adopted Kierstan when he was two years old. A teenager, Pendleton had the brother he always wanted.
But when Kierstan was 10, their parents went through a divorce in Tulsa. So Pendleton loaded up Kierstan and moved him to Norman to live with him. For that Fiesta Bowl season, Carl and Kierstan lived in an apartment across the street from campus.
â€œSometimes we had just enough," Pendleton said. "I remember one month I had just got my check. All the bills were paid. We had some food in the house but only $11 for the rest of the month.â€
No luxuries like cable television. Countless times Kierstan watched a SpongeBob SquarePants DVD. Friends helped transport Kierstan to and from school.
â€œWe trusted God that He would always provide,â€ Pendleton said. â€œWe never went hungry. We were always taken care of. I could see how He prepared me for that decision years in advance. There's nothing in that whole process I regret.â€
A couple of weeks before the Boise State game, Pendleton graduated with a degree in sociology/criminology. A national scholar, Pendleton received an $18,000 scholarship from the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
Nechia, who calls Carl "C.J.," said his trust in God gave her strength. She also moved from Tulsa to Norman, living a few months with her two boys in the apartment before finding her own place.
The past three years Kierstan, now a 14-year-old freshman at Norman High School, has lived with Nechia. On occasion, he spends nights at his brother's house when Carl has a day off.
Carl said it was an adjustment when Kierstan moved back with their mother.
â€œThe hardest thing was letting them do their own thing,â€ Carl said.
After graduating with a master's in December 2008, Carl was hired to be a fundraiser for OU. His goal was to work in athletic administration, someday be an athletic director.
But deep down he always wanted to use his degree and go into law enforcement.
That's where Carl says their story took another God-influenced turn.
It appeared Carl would be living 100 miles away from his brother and mother. He resigned from his job at OU to become a police officer in Tulsa and put a down payment on a house.