For reasons I’d rather not go into here, I stayed a while back at the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Okla., where Democrats from the Texas House of Representatives holed up earlier this year to keep the Repubs from ramming through an agenda the Dems were otherwise powerless to stop.
The hotel, an example of late 1960s design that has been unspoiled by time or renovation, is the best accommodation in Ardmore. Your breakfast is covered at a built-in Denny’s. Equally important for the legislators, there is a lounge, where, for a nominal fee, you can become a “member” and thereby qualify to purchase alcoholic beverages.
The lounge’s picture windows are equipped with blinds, so Baptist deacons and Methodist Sunday School teachers can comfortably imbibe without fear of being spotted by their brethren (or wives). Folks from all around this part of southern Oklahoma flock to the lounge, sporting their crisply pressed jeans, white shirts and clean Stetsons, for the “Sexiest Butt” dance contest on Friday nights.
Anyway, politicians being who they are, I figured the old boys from Texas were just up to their usual hijinks when I first read about their group sneakout. After all, this is a state where a Republican governor once fled the capital in drag to escape a mob; a dead man was elected to statewide office on the strength of name recognition (his name was Jesse James); and, in a miracle that puts Tennessee’s “nun bun” and “outdoor freezer Jesus” to shame, countless other dead people with identical handwriting all registered to vote on election day and sent LBJ to the U.S. Senate.
The news reports and radio spouters made it out like the fugitive Democrats, who sought to prevent the legislature from obtaining a quorum and thus prevent the Republican majority from radically gerrymandering Congressional districts, were sore losers at best and traitors to their duty at worst. The deeper I dug, however, the more I started viewing the fugitive Democrats as misunderstood underdogs who were fighting even more heinous weasels with the only weapons they had.
Turns out that the Repubs were taking the bipartisan sin of gerrymandering to an unprecedented depth of sliminess. Even though the congressional district boundaries had been redrawn in 2001, as they are after each U.S. census, the GOP boys wanted to remake the map again so that several Demo reps would literally be without a district to represent. By Texas standards, the Dems displayed unusual restraint by simply crossing the Red River. Under similar circumstances, I figure John Wayne would have furnished Texas Gov. Rick Perry with any number of new sphincters and made him thank him afterward for not giving him what he justly deserved.
Which brings us roundabout to Maurice Clarett, the onetime Heisman hopeful from Ohio State who now would like to run straight to the NFL.
Last year, in his remarkable freshman season, Clarett, a running back, carried the Buckeyes to their first national championship in over 30 years. Then it was revealed that a sympathetic professor went to unusual lengths to help the star player pass a course. Then we learned that Maurice was riding around with a stereo system in his car that had a value equal to, let’s say, the generosity of a really generous booster.
The Buckeyes suspended Clarett for six games, and now Maurice, who has Don’t-Back-Down Jim Brown as an advisor, doesn’t want to be a Buckeye anymore. But he has one big problem: The NFL, out of its abiding respect for the integrity of college student-athletes, won’t draft sophomores. So Clarett is thinking about suing the NFL, its mama and whomever else happens by.
It has been very easy for the Media Geniuses to treat Clarett as just another pampered athlete with a simultaneous sense of entitlement and victimization. At first blush, he looks like the Texas Demos; when the going gets unpleasant, they go elsewhere.
Upon further review, however, I’ve thrown my sympathies to young Mr. Clarett. Here’s an apparently likable fellow who simply wants to play football. Like a lot of abundantly talented athletes, he learned from a lot of us that being a great football player means things happen for you; the usual rules don’t apply.
Clarett went to college because that’s the only avenue to the NFL. He may be physically ready for the league, but nothing prepared him for the college game, in which athletes must farcically jump through circus hoops to maintain the illusion that they’re much more than employees of a sprawling sports entertainment enterprise.
As fans, we willfully ignore the reality and accept the illusion. The NCAA actively promotes the illusion, raking in millions for member institutions while preaching that college athletes must not be tainted by money. Guys like Clarett may not make Phi Beta Kappa, but they’re not dumb.
I don’t imagine he could beat the NFL or Ohio State in court. But I still wish him luck in making a successful escape. In the process, perhaps he’ll shine a light on a system that’s awash in much more fraud than he ever could have perpetrated by accepting cars, stereos and help in passing tests.
How It Looks from the La-Z-Boy
Titans 23, Colts 17
If the opening week is any indicatorwhich it famously is notthe Colts’ once porous defense is much improved. And they’ll be playing at home, indoors, on that skanky green carpet. Nonetheless, the Titans have owned Indianapolis in recent years. Their offense looks improved, too. Not even Peyton Manning in all his glory is surpassed by Steve McNair. The present ownership continues for at least one more game.
49ers 30, Rams 23
Steelers 27, Chiefs 20
Bucs 20, Panthers 10
Saints 17, Texans 10
Falcons 19, Redskins 17
Auburn 24, Vanderbilt 17
After two weeks, Auburn’s heavily hyped squad remains a strong contender for only one superlative this season: Most Overrated. The Tigers were billed as a national title contenderuntil they were skunked at home by what was supposed to be a rebuilding Southern Cal team. Then, last week, they were flattened by what appears to be a fairly middling Georgia Tech team. Their vaunted ground game has ground to a halt, and the Tigers haven’t even managed thus far to cross an opponent’s goal line.
All of which makes it highly tempting to tab the Commodores to continue Auburn’s misery. After all, Vandy has flashed some offensive weapons to go with a pluckier-than-expected defense, and a rout of hapless UT-Chattanooga, in which the 'Dores could have named the score, can’t help but build confidence.
Though a couple of early strikes might take some of the fight out of the Tigers, this is probably an inopportune time to catch a team that’s backed into a corner. The Commodores, though young and improving, lacked the depth to stay in front of Ole Miss. Up to this point, they also have failed to win winnable games with enough regularity to make laxative companies probe Dudley Field for secret ingredients. Until Vandy shows it can pull out a tight one, the picks will keep going the other way.
Georgia 27, South Carolina 13
Florida 54, Florida A&M 10
Alabama 30, Kentucky 14
Ole Miss 42, Louisiana-Monroe 10
LSU 45, Western Illinois 7
Texas 31, Arkansas 17
Mississippi State 28, Tulane 17
Ohio State 26, North Carolina State 20
Michican 24, Notre Dame 17
Clemson 31, MTSU 14
Nebraska 20, Penn State 13