Selling Out 

Like the NFL, college football is all about the cakes

Like the NFL, college football is all about the cakes

Here I was, reclined in my big chair, primed for the season’s first weekend of college football. In spite of the insomnia-curing Florida State-BYU game, I was stoked for Penn State-Southern Cal on Sunday. Then

I was whacked between the eyes.

It came after the Some-Big-Sponsor’s Pre-Game Show and the AFLAC Trivia Quiz or whatever and before the Prudential Halftime Report. Somewhere in there, ABC debuted a new feature. “And now,” intoned the announcer, “let’s go to the [Sponsor’s Name] First Statistical Check-In.”

“Do WHAT?!” I thought, almost spilling my chilly beverage. Has it finally come to this, that even college football’s first statistical check-in is for sale? As Joseph Welch, the attorney who denounced Joe McCarthy as a fraud, put it, “Have you at last, sirs, no sense of shame?”

Sure, this all begins to sound suspiciously like Claude Rains in Casablanca, professing shock (shock!) at the discovery that gambling occurs in Rick’s Café even as the croupier hands him his winnings.

Still, every once in a while, the masters of big-time college sports go so far that they make it impossible for us even to maintain the slender fiction that their games are about anything besides money and power.

As if to drive home the point, ABC then broadcast a clip from Joe Paterno, the sainted mother of college football. Joe’s quarterback, Rashard Casey, faces felony charges for beating up an off-duty policeman in a bar in what is alleged to be a racially motivated attack. In the interview, Paterno defended his decision to play Casey, as if nothing had happened, until the law forces him to do otherwise.

The media, shrugged Joe, was making something big out of something small. The announcers, for their part, cooperated by wondering whether distractions caused by the case accounted for Casey’s miserable performance on Sunday. They discussed the charges the way they might have talked about a groin pull—just another obstacle for the athlete to overcome.

All of this may not have made an impression had it involved Florida State, whose “don’t ask, don’t care” policy toward misconduct by athletes is well established. But this was Joe Paterno, the guy straighter than Joe Lieberman, the coach who said he would never abandon college football to the likes of Jackie Sherrill and Barry Switzer. Apparently, in his quest to surpass Bear Bryant’s career mark for wins, old Joe has decided to throw in with the usual suspects, concluding perhaps that the way to beat them is to join them.

Suddenly, I realized why Dennis Miller could never have been chosen to provide color commentary on college football. It’s one thing to excoriate the NFL for staging too many exhibition—er, preseason—games. But the college game today would provide such abundant opportunities for full-bore rants that even Miller would be winded by the end of the first quarter.

“Hey, you’re telling these players college football is about amateur competition and representing their school, when every message says every part of it is a business? You can make a 10 on your SAT and still figure out what’s wrong with that picture.”

I’m still addicted, of course, and I’ll still satisfy my cravings in the big chair this fall. But where once I favored college football way over the NFL—because of the color, the pageantry, the school traditions, yada yada yada—my thinking has turned around.

I know the NFL is all about the Benjamins. It doesn’t pretend otherwise. It makes me think of something else Miller said, in defense of pro wrestling: “Hey, if Don King’s not involved, how dishonest can it be?”

How it looks from the La-Z-Boy

Titans 23, Bills 17

Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned, but the Buffalo Bills could probably give Satan & Co. a fair run for his money, at least where the Titans are involved. It was the Music City Miracle, after all, that deprived the Bills from celebrating what they anticipated, for all of the seven seconds or so that they held the lead, as a rightfully earned playoff victory.

It may seem impudent (not to mention imprudent) to visit someone’s house just after stealing from them so audaciously. But Fortune and the schedule-maker left the Titans with no choice.

Fortunately, Jeff Fisher’s team had the eminent sense to upgrade their weaponry before sashaying into Buffalo. With Carl Pickens and a new offensive coordinator, the Titans have a legitimate downfield passing game for the first time in several years. Meanwhile, the Titans again will benefit from the absence of Buffalo’s Doug Flutie, who is missing this time due to injury instead of his coach’s poor decision-making.

Without darting Doug, perhaps the NFL’s most effective running QB next to McNair, the Bills’ offense has one less dimension to offer, and Tennessee’s defense has one less problem to worry about. Not that the Titans won’t find this game excruciatingly tough or the home crowd exceptionally unwelcoming. In fact, no one should be surprised if Bud’s Boys come home with a loss and a collective bloody nose. Still, it appears that they have just enough of an edge to eke out the W. And, if need be, they can always pull a trick play.

Vanderbilt 24, Miami (Ohio) 10

Despite his ill-conceived fake punt call against Georgia last season, we can still state with some confidence that Woody Widenhofer is a smart guy. That’s why he may encourage his team this week to adopt “Remember Northwestern!” as a rallying cry.

Northwestern, you may recall (especially if you’re a freaked-out college football junkie), would have recorded an undefeated regular season a few years back had it not been for—you guessed it—lowly Miami of Ohio.

Closer to home, the Woodster might invoke the name of Northern Illinois—which narrowly missed inflicting on Vandy its most humiliating loss since a 44-7 thrashing by SMU that cost Watson Brown his job. For the Commodores to avoid embarrassment this week, they must show up with a homicidal attitude and resist any temptation to look ahead to Alabama.

Fortunately, they’ll arrive equipped with a defense capable of leaving opponents smacked down and shut out. And as even the most arithmetically challenged old coaches will tell you, the other team can’t beat you if they can’t score.

Tennessee 17, Southern Miss 14

Were I Linda Bensel-Myers, I’d arrange to be in Chechnya or some other comparatively safe spot this weekend. If the Vols lose—a scenario that’s far more likely than you might think—some fanatical Orange Blood (which narrows the list of suspects down to around 300,000) might blame the whistle-blowing English professor and make things even more miserable for her.

The truth is that Southern Miss is perfectly capable of winning this game with no assistance from Prof. Bensel-Myers. The Eagles come loaded with a national ranking, a trademark stifling defense, and a history of upsetting—or at least scaring the pook out of—big name opponents. The rebuilding Vols, who contributed nine players to this spring’s NFL draft, will be lucky if a bad scare is the worst they get.

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