The second best response I ever heard to cheating in college football came from "Dollar" Bill Clement, a trustee of Southern Methodist University who also happened to be governor of Texas.
Bill was raised as a millionaire white boy from Highland Park, which is Dallas' answer to Belle Meade, and he never looked back. One time, Bill decided to have his private jet take him to Louisiana because he was hungry for redfish. "Governor," a reporter asked, "what about all the ordinary folk who can't afford to hop a plane when they want redfish?"
"Then let them eat catfish," Bill replied. Bill could relate to Marie Antoinette in having to put up with petty considerations like citizens or rules meant to govern lesser people.
Not everybody liked Bill as a result. Once, when informed that Gov. Bill was taking Spanish lessons, Jim Hightower, the state's agriculture commissioner, popped, "Oh, good. Now he can be bi-ignorant."
Anyhow, Gov. Bill remained perfectly in character when SMU, his alma mater, landed on NCAA probation for football violations. Some programs get caught speeding. SMU was rocketing like an S-class BMW down the Munich-to-Frankfurt autobahn.
Along with the usual cash, cars and other considerations, SMU had been setting up trust funds for top recruits. They paid to relocate the entire family of one player from Pennsylvania, found a job for his unemployed father and set them all up in swanky digs.
When this ungrateful player became disillusioned and blew the whistle, the NCAAwhich somehow had failed to connect the smoke belching from SMU's program with the insight that there might be a firecame down like a big dog. Not long after receiving official sanctions, the school's board of governors sat down to discuss strategy.
"Boys," said Gov. Bill, "the way I see it, we made an obligation to these young men when we paid them to play football for us. And I don't want us to become known as scumbags who don't fulfill their obligations."
Not many people could have persuaded a governing boardeven one as road-lizard crazy as SMU'sthat continuing to cheat while on probation was morally the right thing to do. Of course, it was precisely this scofflaw act that left the bug-eyed enforcers from the NCAA with little choice but to slap SMU with the first football "death penalty" in history.
Still, I had to give Gov. Bill and the boys some style points for sheer chutzpah. As Dr. Samuel Johnson advised, if you're going to sin, sin boldly.
I thought Bill's unmitigated and unrepentant gall would set the bar forever, like Lou Gehrig's mark of 2,130 straight games or Ty Cobb's career hit total. But I think we may have just surpassed it right here in the good ole SE of C.
Yep, last week down in the Heart of Dixie, lawyer Tommy Gallion alleged, essentially, that Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and the NCAA had engaged in a conspiracy to stop Alabama's football program from...cheating.
OK, so as not to get all Michael Moore about this, Brother Gallion didn't actually use the word "cheating." The $60 millionthat's millionlawsuit he filed claimed that Fulmer and the NCAA conspired to ruin Alabama's program. It's hard not to make the obvious inference from this claim that Alabama's program would be ruined without cheating, though you're welcome to try.
Alabama may not have been flouting the speed limits quite as badly as SMU did. Then again, if you're going 120 mph, you might as well round it up to 150. Among other things, the NCAA found that the Tide employed strippers and provided other improper "incentives" to visiting recruits. Two former assistant coaches, represented by Gallion, allegedly were involved in a bidding war for the services of a prized high school lineman from Memphis.
Coaches inevitably pick up word on the street about who's naughty and nice in recruiting. Fulmer "conspired" with the NCAA by providing college football's governing body with information he'd heard about doings in Tuscaloosa. One rumor he passed along for investigationthat the mother of an Alabama signee was having an affair with an Alabama assistant coachwas the basis for another lawsuit filed by Gallion. That case was tossed out on Monday.
Last week, things got so gnarly that Phil, on the advice of his own attorney, stayed away from Hoover, Ala., (not a bad move anytime, frankly) during SEC Media Days, lest Gallion serve him with a subpoena. Fulmer's absence, a violation of conference rules, cost UT $10,000.
Lord knows America would be better off if we all listened to the advice of lawyers, but I can't help but think Phil missed an opportunity to turn Media Days into something that the assembled media would actually remember when they were sober.
How about if Fulmer had showed up wearing a Mexican wrestling mask and announced, in the hyperbolic tones of the WWF, that he was ready for a smackdown with the defenders of cheating?
What do you suppose would have happened had Phil proposed buying Judge Roy Moore's granite hunk of Ten Commandments and parking it outside Alabama's football offices?
As it was, Phil took the more prudent route and left it to Gallion to score the style points. Now, I know that Gallion doesn't represent the University of Alabama. But he represents the thinking of a lot of folks down there. And the school didn't exactly turn contrite when the NCAA brought the hammer down.
Truth was, the Tide got off easy. The NCAA's habitually gutless enforcement cops decided not to shut down 'Bama's program. But they said they came thee-se close (hold your thumb and forefinger together to see just how close) and that Alabama better not do it again, or else, and they mean it, really.
Instead of quixotic lawsuits, Alabama supporters might be better served by emulating SMU's post-death penalty strategy. Gov. Bill's honchos hired all the private eyes who weren't already busy working for wives of Texas politicians and began spying on rivals Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Houston. By the time they were done, nearly everybody in the old Southwest Conference was on some kind of probation.
For Alabama, ferreting out fellow lawbreakers in the SEC shouldn't be all that hard and would provide a valuable public service; maybe they could even earn back some scholarships for good behavior. No rug in creation is big enough to hide all the dirt at Auburn. And what better way to strike at LSU or force Fulmer to pay particular mind to his P's and Q's? (If he needs to brush up, I believe that "P's and Q's" is a course at UT, on the same degree track as Walking 101.)
But if the university chooses instead to embrace attorney Gallion's counterattacking style, maybe it could hire ex-D.C. Mayor Marion Berryremembered in the annals of jurisprudence for the immortal words "Bitch set me up"as a spokesman. "Baghdad Bob"forever remembered in our military annals for the words "All U.S. soldiers have been driven from Iraq!"is also said to be available, unless there's a vacancy for presidential press secretary.
Almost everyone seems to have kind of a grudging admiration of Baghdad Bob. It takes major-league brass to claim total Iraqi victory during the fall of Baghdad, and not many of us could pull that off.
That's why I'm revising my view of Tommy Gallion and some of his fellow Crimson ultras. They are the new winners of my "Baghdad Bob Sports Trophy for Profiles in Chutzpah." I believe that Gov. Bill, wherever he is, would take off his Stetson and offer a Texas-accented "Felicidados."