After every football game, sportswriters dutifully scurry to the locker rooms in search of quotes. Fans eagerly comb the sports pages the next day to read what the players and coaches have said, hoping to be illumined about what happened and why. More than half the time, this whole business is an unrewarding exerciseor as my uncle H.L. might have put it, about as useless as teats on a boar hog.
Just as they’re marvelously conditioned physically, many athletes (like their coaches) have trained themselves to warp into “quote mode” whenever an interview question is posed. It’s a wise precaution, but it makes for a regurgitated litany of the same older-than-white-dog-doo clichés and understatements, such as “We feel like we can play with anybody.”
What this tireworn phrase means is: “Everybody treats us like we couldn’t be a wart on Alabama’s hiney, but we think we’re not all that bad.”
Just as diplomats cryptify their public statements (a “full and frank discussion,” for example, invariably means that the two ambassadors had to be restrained from pummeling each other), athletes and coaches hide their feelings behind innocuous-sounding blather. If you know the code, though, sifting through the post game quotes can be entertaining and enlightening. As a service to readers, we’ll explain a few remarks you might have heard around Neyland Stadium after Tennessee’s stirring 30-27 win over Georgia last Saturday.
From the Georgia locker room: “I guess they just wanted it more than we did.” (Translation: “We’re still trying to figure out why we lost.”)
From the Vols’ locker room: “Boy, they sure came to play.” (Translation: “Georgia is a lot better than we thought.”)
From the pressbox: “It’s a game of inches.” (Translation: “Sometimes you have to be pure stupid lucky to win.”)
On the other hand, it can be dangerous to try to speak more directly. You can end up saying something you never meant to say at all. For example, had Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer said, “We were fortunate to win,” the between-the-lines translation would be: “If Georgia’s best receiver hadn’t dropped that pass and their best runner hadn’t gotten hurt, we’d have been a bunch of screwed Josés.”
You also have to consider the source. If Georgia Coach Ray Goff had said, “A few of the breaks didn’t go our way,” it would have meant, “If Brice Hunter hadn’t ham-handedly dropped that pass and Robert Edwards hadn’t gotten hurt, we’d have whooped the pookie out of them.”
Or, try this one: “It was a great college football game.” Uttered by Fulmer, it would mean: “I’m just glad we didn’t lose. I’m going to need to suck down another whole bottle of Maalox, but at least now I can get one decent night’s sleep before I start fretting about Florida.”
Actually, it was a great gamemaybe the most thrilling that will be played in the SEC all year. Had Hunter caught the crucial pass for the Bulldogs, or had the game been played in Athens, the outcome might have been different. But, hey, it’s a game of inches, and the breaks just didn’t go Georgia’s way.
From fans: “That Peyton Manning sure has a lot of savvy for a sophomore.” (Translation: “That boy couldn’t run out of sight in a week, but he sure seems to know what he’s doing.”)
Given his bloodlines and his at-home football tutoring, it would be more surprising if Manning did not show such exceptional poise as a quarterback. Even for a prodigy, though, he put up some prodigious numbers against Georgia. (It also doesn’t hurt to have a well-conceived passing game, as the Vols do.) Barring injury, Manning will certainly have other luminous days. But last Saturday may be remembered as the one where he evolved from promising to delivering.
How it looks from the La-Z-Boy
Notre Dame 27, Vanderbilt 17
The most shocking surprise of the season so far isn’t that Notre Dame was humiliated by bottom-feeding Northwestern, a team that heretofore was capable of scaring people only with its grotesque purple-and-black uniforms. The real jaw-dropper is that pundits picked a team with only 72 players on scholarshipincluding 20 true freshmen and six walk-onsamong the nation’s top 10. Sure would make an intriguing Tony Alamo leaflet. But we digress.
Now, after a narrow escape against Purdue that seemed to confirm Notre Dame’s mediocrity, and after Vanderbilt’s gritty performance against Alabama, some Commodore fans have become so emboldened as to believe their team might sashay into South Bend and snatch a win out from under the watchful gaze of Touchdown Jesus and everybody. Northwestern is living proof that stranger things have happened. But not twice in the same season. Not to an Irish team, even a piddling one. And especially not with their coach in the hospital to serve as a rallying point. Wheedler and conniver that he is, you’d almost think that Lou Holtz planned things this wayexcept that, if he were hatching a win-one-for-the-Gipper scam, he’d save it for someone besides Vanderbilt.
Florida 34, Tennessee 30
In recent years, the only group that has suffered greater indignities at Florida Field than Vol football teams are Vol football fans. The outcome and the outpouring of hospitality aren’t likely to be noticeably different this time, but the fireworks on offense could be mightily entertaining. It’s not inconceivable that one team could score more than 40 points and yet win by less than a touchdown.
Tennessee has beaten two quality opponents, while Florida has wallowed around unimpressively against two teams that managed one win each last season. Tennessee probably has better offensive balance too. Florida’s enormous home-field advantage notwithstanding, the Vols are capable of winning in Gainesville. Just probably not this time.
Alabama 21, Arkansas 17
Auburn 28, LSU 17
Georgia 45, New Mexico State 17
Indiana 24, Kentucky 13
Baylor 24, Mississippi State 21
South Carolina 34, Louisiana Tech 16
Ohio State 20, Washington 17
Florida St. 34, North Carolina St. 17
UCLA 28, Oregon 20