Well, college football's biggest critics have finally gotten what they wanted -- and I sure hope they're happy with the result. For years and years they've been asking why college football couldn't have a Super Bowl to determine its champion, and now that they've gotten it, the game turns out to be as bad as the NFL's Super Bowl. No, make that worse.
Is there anyone out there besides fans of the schools involved who is ever going to watch a tape of last season's Oklahoma-Florida State game? Or the previous season's Florida State-Virginia Tech? Last Thursday's game between Miami and Nebraska was suspenseful right up until the moment in the first quarter when Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey rolled right and lofted a long touchdown pass to receiver Andre Johnson, who was so alone that he must have felt insulted. I'd like to say that I've never seen a college football team in a big game look as bad as Nebraska, but for that statement to have integrity, I'd have to go watch any of the last few BCS championship games again, and even Salon can't pay enough to make that worthwhile.
There are some traditions in sports that we really don't need. The Rose Bowl never really meant a thing to me; I always regarded it as a snotty alliance of West Coast and Big Ten schools to keep better teams out of college football's most "prestigious" bowl game. My memories of the Rose Bowl while growing up usually involved slow, huge white teams from the Midwest with coaches who had less imagination than a French philosopher getting humiliated by West Coast teams armed with speedy little black scatbacks or hot-shot Chicano quarterbacks. So I could have given a rat's butt about what was "lost" in opening up the Rose Bowl to other teams.
As far as I'm concerned, what was principally wrong with the Rose Bowl was that Alabama was never invited back after it had the temerity to spank the PAC-8's best teams back in the '20s and early '30s. "Gee, I don't know," you kept hearing from old-timers with microphones stuck in their faces, "it's nice to have Miami and Nebraska here, but somehow it just doesn't seem the same." No, it didn't, let's be thankful for that. Face it: from the '60s to the '80s, except for the years Southern Cal was challenging for a national championship, the Rose Bowl drifted into the status of a second-rate bowl game, far less important than the Sugar, Orange, or Fiesta Bowls. Now, they get the championship game and some are still complaining. Folks, this was a championship game. Does that make up in prestige for what's lost by not having Washington and Indiana?
On the other hand, I guess, how one feels about that would depend on the quality of the game itself, and while Miami-Nebraska was the best matchup available -- and it really was, you know, no matter what some Oregon fans may think -- it was doomed from the start by the very fact of calling itself a championship game. I really don't think young men of 18 and 19 are prepared to respond in the best way to playing in a championship game that has been hyped for more than three weeks; for that matter, I don't think NFL veterans of 27 or 28 are ready for the experience, either. The question is why do we subject college students, amateur athletes, to this kind of pressure? It was bad enough when you had two or three or even four games on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day that might decide the national championship but which, played so close together, broke up the amount of hype that could be centered on any single game. Now, they not only don't play the damn thing on New Year's Day, they don't even play it the day after New Year's Day, they play it in prime time on Jan. 3 so every kid can be made more aware of the fact that the biggest humiliation of his life will be given undivided attention by the American viewing public. The effect of having the championship game so late has now become a double bummer that both drains interest from the Jan. 1 games and leaves nothing worth discussing or arguing or even remembering about the championship game.
Well, I guess it's not true that there was nothing memorable about the Miami-Nebraska Rose Bowl game. Seeing Eric Crouch (114 rushing yards, but an embarrassing five out of 15 for 62 yards passing) exposed on national TV as an average football player blew holes through all the pompous arguments made in his behalf by Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and others. (When was the last time you saw a team with a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, behind by three touchdowns with less than 10 minutes to play, hand the ball off up the middle to a running back on its last-gasp 4th and 7?)
And, of course, there is the great Keith Jackson, who has a power that few announcers have ever possessed to make a sporting event seem honest and real. I'll never forget how, after introducing "The Big Uglies" on the Alabama and Miami front lines, he began his broadcast of the 1993 Sugar Bowl match with "And now, let's play for the national championship." The only pro announcer in my time who held a candle to Jackson was CBS's Ray Scott, whom I'll forever associate with the great Green Bay Packers victories of the 1960s. It was a pleasure hearing Jackson describe Miami running back Clinton Portis as someone who could pick your wallet while running past you and then watch Portis run 39 yards for a touchdown two plays later.
Damn Dick Schapp for dying during a crowded holiday season when we didn't have proper time to mourn him. Dick Schapp was perhaps the greatest writer of the real golden age of American sports journalism, the mid-'50s to the late '60s. He wrote the best books on the best subjects (Jerry Kramer's Green Bay diary, Joe Namath's autobiography) and enough great magazine stories to match just about anyone but W.C. Heinz. I once told him that his Sport Magazine Library biography of Mickey Mantle was the first book to make me cry, and he sent me a mint condition copy with a note that read "I'd have autographed it, Allen, but unsigned copies may prove to be rarer.") ESPN's "The Sports Reporters" was an unfocused embarrassment when he was on vacation and is a lost cause now that he is gone.