Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Patriots, one week later

The 1998 and 1999 Yankees were, quite simply, the greatest baseball team ever assembled. Even the best baseball teams have a glaring weakness or two. The 1927 Yankees had no team speed--not that they needed it. The 1976 Reds had mediocre starting pitching, and the 1989 A's starters were awful after Dave Stewart and Bob Welch. (It is telling that A's, for all their talent, only won the one World Series interrupted by an earthquake. This happenstance allowed them to sweep: two games were won by Stewart, two by Welch--each, two weeks apart). Both the Reds and A's boasted explosive offenses, above-average defenses and deep, suffocating bullpens--give them a lead after six and you were done.

The Yankees came close to both the A's and Reds in offense and had a significantly better bullpen, anchored by the Hammer of God himself, closer Mo Rivera. Their starting pitching put the A's and Reds to shame; the '98 model had two Cy Young Award candidates (David Cone, David Wells) supported by Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez; the '99 version boasted Roger Clemens as its fourth starter.

The dominance of the 98-99 Yankees can be summed up in three statistics. First, the team went 22-3 in the postseason over those two years. In the three-tiered Wild Card era, there isn't even a second place. Second, the Yankees went 8-0 in two World Series. Two consecutive sweeps in a row is without precedent. Third, the eight wins over two years are part of a 14-0 World Series run that began in the 1996 Series and continued through the 2000 Series. The '96 and '00 editions were lesser versions of the '98-'99 juggernauts for different reasons. The '96 team was an odd mixture of veteran badasses (Tim Raines, Cecil Fielder, Darryl Strawberry, Mariano Duncan, David Cone), top journeymen at their absolute peak (Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, John Wetteland, Jimmy Key, Joe Girardi), and Stick Michael prodigies coming into their own (Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera). Add one Hall-of-Famer enjoying his clover (Wade Boggs) and one clutch-hitting back-up catcher (King Leyritz) you have a champion.

The 2000 club was the outlier, the 87-victory fluke, the team that invoked all the cliches, winning "on pure pride" or whatever over three teams that were, each of them, probably more talented--in the case of Seattle, demonstrably so. The A's and Mariners both thought they had the Pinstriped Monster beat; and the Mets, in the Series, played as if winning were a formality, and found themselves on the tail end of at least two games they should have won.

As this run from Heaven was going on, I asked myself a few questions:

How would I react when it was over?

How would I react when I had my heart ripped out, the way this Yankee team ripped out the hearts of so many others?

How would I react when Mariano Rivera, the Hammer of God, failed to get it done?

(Digression here. How great is Mo Rivera? Imagine an all-time starting line-up: nine position players, right-handed pitcher, left-handed pitcher, reliever. Babe Ruth goes in right field. Walter Johnson, your right-handed pitcher. And Mo Rivera is your reliever. These are the three who defy argument. I drive between campuses all day, this is my job, and when a current ballplayer is on a sports radio show, and Mo Rivera comes up in conversation, I swear, there are a few seconds of silence, after which the current ballplayer whispers something like, "The guy's a freaking witch.")

Little did I know that all three of the above would happen at once--literally the instant that Luis Gonzalez blooped that sawed-off, one hundred and twenty-five foot dying quail over Derek Jeter's glove. The Diamondbacks, that Series, outplayed the Yankees in every aspect of the game except closer, and the difference in the respective abilities of Rivera and Byung-Hung Kim was reflected in the fact that the Yankees--who three times had starting pitchers chased in the early innings (Pettitte was tipping his pitches, and Game One starter Mensa Mussina was driven bonkers by a week-long layoff and by having to pitch in an unfamiliar park) and sported the worst batting average in an extended Series since the 1919 White Sox (who, let us not forget, lost the World Series on purpose)--were still able to scrape their way to a 3-2 lead in games heading back to Phoenix for Game Six.

We all know what happened in Game Seven. Rivera's inexplicable meltdown: three hits allowed, one hit batsmen, one crazy wild throw that pulled Jeter off the bag and prevented an easy double play. For years, the domestic shorthair cat who had moved into my apartment had served as a harbinger of Yankee fortunes: if Jeter or Paul O'Neill or Brosius came up to bat in the late innings, Ferris would run to the bedroom, anticipating my joyous screams. When Rivera would appear in the ninth, Ferris would fall asleep in my lap, certain that all was well.

And it was, in the years between Sandy Alomar's home run in the '97 playoffs, Rivera's first year as closer, and Gonzo's bloop. I had been so certain the Yankees had done it, had won their fourth Series in a row, I actually relaxed.

This was when my heart was ripped out. Two friends had come over to watch the game; after they left I turned all the lights out and stared at the ceiling. Eventually I fell asleep, only to wake up again and again, every ninety minutes or so, and to one thought: Someone tell me that didn't happen. It didn't happen. Didn't.

But of course it had.

This was the moment I remembered watching the end of the Patriots' game last Sunday. And that's all I have to say.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Durham DA Nifong hit with Ethics violations

The details here.


At this moment, removal as DA and a lengthy suspension of his law lisence is the best case scenario. Nifong's career as DA is over. Disbarment is a genuine possibility.

And jail time? Don't be surprised.

I'm reminded of what one of the mothers (it might have been Mrs. Finnerty) said on 60 Minutes, when asked what she would say to Mike Nifong, were he in the room.

"'Mr. Nifong,'" she replied. "'You picked on the wrong families. And we're going to remind you of this every day for the rest of your life.'"

Pats' Postmortem

Almost ready to talk.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The rich gets richer

The post in April, on the North Carolina NAACP website, shows the mindset of the NAACP at the time. Of particular interest is this sentence, posted in early April, which advised not only vocal participation by the NAACP but quick action by the Duke president even before the DA's investigation was completed:

First, we must clearly denounce any code of silence, which seeks to inhibit ascertaining the facts.

Second, we must have deep compassion and concern for the victim and challenge any attempts to demean or destroy her rather than to seek and ascertain the truth.

Third, we must ensure that the D.A.’s investigation be completed thoroughly and promptly and that serious consequences be meted out if all the allegations are proven to be true. All of the allegations include sexual violence/gang rape, racial slandering/hate crimes, underage alcohol use, and any prior history of racial bigotry and intimidation must be fully investigated. We do not want a rush to judgment. But neither do we want a delay of justice. While the D.A. completes his thorough and prompt investigation, we want Duke to zealously conduct and complete its own internal investigation.

The idea that Duke should wait until the D.A.’s investigation is completed is wrong-headed.

I mean, this is too easy. It took me four minutes on the North Carolina NAACP website to find the above passage, which encapsulates perfectly the mindset of the NC NAACP nine months ago. So different now: "Keep moving, folks. Nothing to see here." This attitude is so in-keeping with Lawrence O'Donnell during his year-end appearance in The McGlaughlin Group, when he pronounced the Duke Hoax (though he didn't call it that) the most overrated story of 2006: "It doesn't need a this kind of daily examination. Let the story play out."

Poor fellows. Gradually at first, and then suddenly, all fun went out of the game. Now, we're (mostly Joseph Cheshire, but the rest of us as well) are supposed to be quiet. Now, we're supposed to sit back, turn away . . . you know, let the process play out.

Not a chance, guys. Nine months of facts, revelations, and story after story after story later, now it's our turn to bang the pots. Outside your window, in case you were wondering.

(I owe an Anonymous for this tip; in my previous comments box I was made aware of the so-called "82 Crimes and Torts," whatever the hell that means, the NAACP claimed the Duke players committed, a claim made just as the case was congealing. I'd thank Anon if I knew Anon's name; as it is, a word of thanks as it is.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Oh, this is rich

The North Carolina NAACP wants everyone--especially the defense--to shut up about the Duke rape case while the state's Attorney General looks into the matter.

Sure thing, guys.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Finally, part 2

Fell asleep last night with the laptop in my, well, lap. To finish up on the Patriots this past weekend:

2. There is something awe-inspiring about Bill Belichick's ability to consistently win with only one historically superb star. The Packers of the sixties had eight Hall-of-Famers; the Steelers of the seventies had eight or nine; the Niners of the eighties and Cowboys of the nineties, when all is done, will have around a half-dozen apiece. The Patriots, right now, have Tom Brady, and maybe Adam Vinatieri (whose cause, ironically enough, would be helped by a big game this weekend against New England). Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison? Maybe, maybe not. Teddy Bruschi? Deion Branch? Sorry. Ty Law? Long shot.

The only historical parallel I can think of (I was discussing this with Robbie-Boy on Sunday) is Bobby Knight. Personal shortcomings aside, Knight won three Final Fours and 880 NCAA basketball games with one future NBA Hall of Famer, Isiah Thomas. (By contrast, Dean Smith had James Worthy and Michael Jordan on the same team.)

How Bill Belichick succeeds is, first, bringing in players very good at very, very specific tasks, and, second, running his squad in as heartless and calculated a manner as possible. There was no earthly reason to cut Deion Branch loose; the money they saved was not needed to stay under the cap, and the amount they came in under the cap cannot carry over. Yet here they are, one win away from the Super Bowl.

3. With this season's version of the Patriots showing vulnerability, it is time to look back and truly appreciate the Super Pats of a few years ago, a team whose playoff games were almost relaxing to watch. I've rooted against Peyton Manning for a decade, but his 20-3 loss to the Patriots in the 2005 AFC Championship Game was the only time I felt sorry for him.

It is difficult to explain this to anyone under forty, but until the 2002 play-offs, the Patriots were the team of disappointments and freakish accidents, a team better known for its drunken rioters from Brookline and Framingham than anything it performed on the field. This was a team that once played a home game in Alabama, a team whose coach was fired/quit heading into the playoff bye week. When the Pats were bad they were putrid; when they were good it hardly seemed to matter, as when, in 1985, they appeared as the designated Super Bowl punching bag for the Chicago Bears. After the game, it was reported that half the team was on coke (though in fairness, if I were going up against Richard Dent and Mike Singletary I might need a little something myself). This was a team that ran fourth in Boston behind the Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins (and when Doug Flutie played at Boston College, fifth).

The fulcrum was the (correctly called!) Tuck Rule game against Oakland in 2002. Since then, in every game but one (Denver last year), every bounce, every close call, every freakish event has broken the Pats' way, no more so than this past Sunday. And so we look to this Sunday, to see if the magic sustains itself.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Three last points on the Patriots.

1. They do occasionally play like punks, a story unreported by a media caught up in the Belichick/Brady saga. The Patriots behaved like seven year-olds at times then, and at times now.

The other two tomorrow

The Day After

Someone tell me what happened. I was ready to ask for a re-count.

There were two certified Hall-of-Famers on the field yesterday. One rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns. The other threw three interceptions. Guess who won?

San Diego spent 45 minutes blowing New England off both sides of the ball. Leaving aside the weird Denver game that turned on two atrocious calls (pass interference near the end of the first half, and the no-call on the fumble out of bounds in the end zone) and several weird flukes, Brady has never looked worse in a game so big. Bill Simmons on postulated a month ago that Brady is badly hurt, somewhere, not that we'll know. Bill Belichik keeps such matters a secret worthy of North Korea, and so it will be February 15th or thereabouts when we read in tiny print that "Tom Brady entered Boston Mercy hospital for elbow surgery." Or knee surgery or back surgery or whatever; no way does the Brady of three years ago not drill Ben Watson between the numbers on that down-and-in.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Patriots 24, Chargers 21

Good Lord. What happened? I'm not even clear on the names. To wit:

1. Sometimes luck is the best plan.

An interception that leads to a fumble, then a recovery, hence a first down? I've been watching football 31 years; this is the third time it's happened in my presence. A late, late, late hit on fourth down, a punk-ass move unworthy of Texas 5-A, something that leads to an opponents' field goal? See below.

2. Bad actors.

What was up with these two teams? Why all the bad blood? To paraphrase Jim Rome, Arizona State-Arizona thinks those teams were over the top. San Diego was like a young pit bull looking to make its mark against the lead dog; nice try.

3. "I'm Keith Hernandez!"

I don't know anything about NFL football except what I see on TV. So I've seen the Patriots' struggle this year, not least because of the Hoodie's "I'm Keith Hernandez" moments, encapsulized by his cutting loose of Deion Branch. This, as Bill Simmons wrote, was his "I'm Keith Hernandez!" moment. This was the trade of Branch that led to a bunch of second-guessing, the whole 13 million under-the-cap business.

And yet here he was.

So what do we say about the Hoodie? He does what he does, and--against all odds--it works.

I don't . . . believe . . . what I just saw

Okay, somebody describe to me what just happened.

I mean, somebody tell me how the Patriots just won this game. I don't know myself. I'm in favor of the Patriots, and I'm ready to ask for a re-count.

Look, (to steal from Larry Miller) let's all have a drink. Then let's reconvene.

Okay? Okay.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Zzzzzzzz (Respite from the Smelly Lounge)

Staffing week, maybe my last.

Staffing week, for a department chair in the type of college where I work, comprises 15-hour days in the run-up to each semester, and keeps me from my loves: a good movie, a good steak, and writing that keeps the black dog at bay.

I'm going to New York in March to deliver an essay about my teaching. Why the Composition Convention keeps choosing the most expensive venues in the most expensive cities (the Hilton on Sixth Avenue? Good gracious!; last year was the Palmer House in Chicago) escapes me. Would it kill them to hold their conventions in cheaper venues, like Lubbock, or at least cheaper-but-still-nice venues, like Austin or Memphis or Long Beach?

Anyway, what I've been thinking lately is that there should be more teaching, more writing, and a lot less of Staffing Week. Be that as it may, SunDevil Joe, Robbie-Boy, Astro-Girl, Chumley Felix, Cahill, I suggest we meet back here after the Patriots game on Sunday.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New England 37, New York Jets 16

Nice to know you can count on a few things in life, Tom Brady and Bill Belichek among them.

Next up: San Diego.

Funny thinking of Tom Brady (who is not yet 30) going up against "the kid," Phil Rivers.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Duke invites 2 players back to campus

Another stone drops. Reade Seligman and Collin Finnerty may enroll and re-join the lacrosse team (the third, Dave Evans, graduated last spring).

Apparently the presumption of innocence means something after all.

Details here.

My favorite part of every one of these articles lately is what comes near the end: "Nifong could not be reached for comment."

Texans' Ryans NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

So we got that, at least.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The latest on Duke

Mike Nifong sworn in as Durham DA today.

In private.

Behind locked doors.


KC has the details.

The Fiesta Bowl, Boise State, and the Future (part three of three)

There is no question that, at present, the Fiesta Bowl is one-fifth of a system that is unwieldy at best, and possibly corrupt as well. The BCS is college football's horse-by-committee, a closed shop that manages to strip away most of the traditional rivalries of the bowls while doing nearly nothing to resolve the problem of an identifiable champion. When it works, it does by accident, when there happens to be two undefeated major programs and zero undefeated mid-majors, a Utah or a Boise State. This has happened exactly twice, in 2002 and last year. Furthermore, anyone who thinks that Boise State victory brings us any closer to a playoff should consider that 1975 Fiesta Bowl, which was played the day after Christmas. In those days, with no BCS, schools played their bowls and turned matters over to the voters. Even when number one played number two--as happened with Penn State and Alabama in the 1979 Sugar Bowl--nothing was guaranteed. (Alabama defeated Penn State, but was number two to USC in the UPI Poll by virtue of having lost to USC earlier in the year. USC, at 11-1, lost the only game it would lose over two seasons, to . . . Arizona State.) In 1975, having won the Fiesta Bowl, having beaten a major power, the Sun Devils and their fans had a week to do equations in their heads, thinking, "Well if UCLA beats Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and if Alabama loses the Sugar Bowl (or even wins unimpressively), and if Oklahoma loses in the Orange Bowl . . . my God, we'll win the National Championship!"

It takes a lot to go from number seven to number one in one week. In fact, it has never happened. But it very nearly happened that year. Alabama won the Sugar Bowl, but in lackluster fashion, and (in Dick Vermeil's final game as Bruin coach)UCLA pounded Ohio State. In those days, the Orange Bowl was always the last game on New Year's Day; most of Sun Devil Nation tuned in, hoping for a miracle. It didn't happen. Oklahoma won, and all of us were treated to final AP and UPI polls that began as follows:

1. Oklahoma (11-1)
2. Arizona State (12-0)
3. Alabama (11-1)

This was the first serious call for a playoff I remember. Bear Bryant, furious for (in his eyes) being robbed of a championship, screamed bloody murder. And this was thirty-one years ago. However, what has happened in the interim--the Bowl Alliance, then the BCS--has been an effort to prevent a play-off, rather than lead to one. The issue is not money; though the Big Six conferences do enjoy their fat guaranteed paydays, there is no question the money would skyrocket if the bowls were somehow lashed to a playoff system. (Think March Madness times ten.) The issue is always, will always be, power. The NCAA has full power to regulate any intercollegiate playoff system; hold so much as a single game that might be called a "play-off" (the so-called "Four- (or Five-) plus-one" scenario, and the Big Six-plus-Notre-Dame will lose their power to include, exclude, negotiate, schedule and divide up the profits among themselves.

(It is precisely because there is no playoff that, despite common misconception, the winner of next Monday's game won't be the "National Champion" of anything, strictly speaking, or even the "Champion" of anything save the BCS. The rough analogy is the Master's Golf Tournament, which unlike the other majors, which crown the national champion of a professional body--the Professional Golfers' Association, say--the winner of the Master's is not the champion of anything but a particular tournament. The Master's is not even a tour event, strictly speaking; all its glory is conferred upon by the players, the media, and the fans of the sport. Which is why Augusta National can talk of requiring a uniform (read: less areodynamic) golf ball without fear of interference from the PGA or USGA.)

When the BCS has been expanded, it has been for no other reason that to forestall Congressional anti-trust oversight. The notion is that an odd Utah or Boise State will keep the hounds at bay. This does little to help us. If Florida manages to defeat Ohio State in any convincing manner, the final BCS standings will probably read as follows:

1. Florida (13-1)
2. Boise State (13-0)
3. Ohio State (12-1)

What can be said for the Fiesta Bowl is that, when a mid-major school attempts to enter the party, it usually uses the Tempe gate. Arizona State was the first to do so. Penn State and Miami gave us the second National Champion crowned in a bowl outside the Original Four (Brigham Young won its lone National Championship by prevailing in the Holiday Bowl in 1984; its finish ahead of 11-1 Washington was helped in no small part by the respectability Arizona State had helped bring to the Mountain Time Zone.) Only two teams outside the Big-Six-Plus-Notre-Dame have ever played in a BCS Bowl. Both have gone to the Fiesta Bowl. Utah did so by going undefeated in 2004; Boise State went this season. Both times their geographical location was actually a benefit; the Fiesta Bowl reasoned, quite correctly, that not only would the fans of these schools buy up their allotment of tickets and any others they could get their hands on, but that thousands of fans without tickets would flood the Valley with their tourist dollars. This brightens prospects for whatever mid-major may manage to run the table: a TCU, a Brigham Young, even--one day--an Air Force, Wyoming, or Nevada. The future will be the opening of the door--just a crack, though. The playoffs are at least fifteen years away, maybe twenty. At least.

The Fiesta Bowl, Boise State, and the Future (part two of three)

It is an effort to list all of the consequences of that single football game.

The 1975 Fiesta Bowl was the game that turned college football on its head, opened up the Pac-8 to the Arizona schools, put the Fiesta Bowl on the map, introduced a college football-watching country to an entire time zone, and helped inch the football world toward an opening-up of television contracts.

(It is hard to remember but well to remember how byzantine the bylaws and contracts were back then. Until the late seventies, neither the Big-10 nor Pac-Ten could send a team to any bowl but the Rose, and so in 1974, for instance, Michigan started the season 10-0, lost to Ohio State, and stayed home. Also, the NCAA negotiated all television contracts, and allowed only a handful of games on the air. Nowadays the Pac-10 and Big-10 send at least ten teams to bowl games, and on Saturdays one can watch college football, uninterrupted, from late morning until past midnight on multiple stations. A single school (Notre Dame) has its own network television contract, for heaven's sake.)

What happened soon thereafter was a realization by many that both the Fiesta Bowl and Arizona State had outgrown one another, and both had outgrown the WAC. Arizona State was ready to challenge for the Rose Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl was ready to be more than a mere showcase for ASU. In 1978, Arizona State (along with Arizona) moved to the Pac-8, making it the Pac-10; and the Fiesta Bowl, which was contractually allowed to break its ties with the WAC should any team leave the conference (of course, everyone knew the clause had been written with ASU in mind), became free to offer both of its bids to any team that would accept them. This double-bid status became a piece of enormous good luck over the next dozen years, as independents, along with conference champions with no bowl tie-ins, became the Next Big Thing in college football.

A bowl designed for an upstart became an upstart itself, moving to New Year's Day in 1981 as a clear challenge to the Big Four. Soon thereafter, the game became the first to add a corporate title to its name. The Sunkist Fiesta Bowl was born, the appearance purse bulged, and the game became a locus of perennial national consequence. It helped that over a seven-year span, six independents (Miami three times, Penn State twice, Notre Dame once) won the national championship, two of them by winning the Fiesta Bowl. (Had Penn State beaten Oklahoma in the 1986 Orange Bowl, the string would have been seven-of-seven.) The watershed was during the 1986 season, when it became clear that two undefeated independents--Miami and Penn State--would wind up the regular season No. 1 and No. 2. Completely free of any conference tie-in, the Fiesta Bowl went to work, taking the revolutionary step of moving the 1987 game to January 2nd and then fattening the purse. The traditional bowls (especially the Orange, which considered Miami its possession) howled, but the two teams met in that year's Game of the Century. It hardly mattered that the game itself was a dud, aside from the thrill of watching a Miami team full of loudmouths and criminals beaten 14-10 by Joe Paterno's Eagle Scouts (the offensive player of the game was John Bruno, the Penn State punter.) The 1987 Fiesta Bowl was the highest-rated football game to that point, and there was no turning back.

Occasionally, the double-indy system did not work. Sometimes the game was the runner-up bowl; it seemed for half-a-dozen years that Nebraska (by losing to Oklahoma) kept playing Florida State (which kept losing to Miami). And occasionally the greatest schemes fell flat; in 1993, the game set itself up for a re-match of a Notre Dame-Florida State thriller, but Notre Dame spoiled everything by losing to Boston College, and the Fiesta was left scrambling, finally settling on Arizona and a Miami team imploding from a decade's worth of misbehavior. (Arizona breezed, 29-0, in a stinker; on a hunch, my younger brother Rob and I drove to Sun Devil Stadium New Year's morning and bought a pair of field-level seats from two kids unloading their parents tickets. We paid fifteen bucks--total. Try doing that these days.) Often enough, though, the formula did work, and when the wind blew the other way--when Penn State, Miami, Florida State, Pittsburgh, and every other major college program save Notre Dame became conference aligned--the Fiesta Bowl swung back again, and found its way into the Bowl Alliance, and ultimately the BCS, hosting the championship game every fourth year. When the BCS added a fifth bowl, a stand-alone BCS championsip to rotate between the four BCS sites and run a week after New Years', the Fiesta Bowl location (now moved across the Valley to Glendale for the new stadium) was chosen as the first host.

The real loser, as time went on, was the Cotton Bowl: not as nimble, not as spendthift, too interested in landing the Heisman Trophy winner; plus the game is played in a bad neighborhood in, too often, terrible weather. (Don't know why, but New Year's Day in Dallas is almost always miserable: either wet or freezing, and always windy. Just ask Joe Montana.) The founders of the Fiesta Bowl had wanted, more than anything, to convince the country that the Valley of the Sun was as good a place to spend Christmas week as Southern California, Miami or New Orleans. To that extent--and against a dozen bowls that might have beaten them, had any of them been a little more aggressive--they had succeeded.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Fiesta Bowl, Boise State, and the Future (part one of three)

So this time--for sure--the BCS will reform, right? In the wake of Boise State's spectacular, incredible, excellent, very good Fiesta Bowl comeback against Oklahoma (a game that included both a hook-and-ladder and a Statue of Liberty play, both for scores), we are faced with the very real possibility of the only undefeated Division I-A team--having won a BCS Bowl and beaten four Bowl teams, including Oregon State (which beat USC, which clobbered Michigan, which lost to Ohio State by three points)--ranked second in the BCS come next Tuesday. Surely, then, this will be crystallizing moment, when college football sees the error of its ways and institutes the long-awaited playoff system--four teams, eight, ten?

No. Of course not. The reasons why, in a minute. First, a few words about the Fiesta Bowl, and how appropriate it was that Boise State's classic victory should take place there.

The Fiesta Bowl has always been for upstarts. In the beginning, it was formed by resentful triplets starving for attention: the Western Athletic Conference, Arizona State University, and the powers of the greater Phoenix/Tempe area.

As is recounted in the history of the game, in the late sixties and early seventies, the Western Athletic Conference was growing dissolute about the fact that no prestigious bowl would accept its champion. Football in those days was even more a closed shop than today, as a long-ago (and non-archived) Sports Illustrated article recounts. To paraphrase, outside of a few tie-ins, the power rested neither in the NCAA nor the conferences but in a few powerful schools, which invariably meant that a few coaches-for-life who would set up bowl match-ups between themselves and present the match-up as a fait accompli. (The 1975 Sugar Bowl, between Alabama and Notre Dame, was apparently settled on a single phone call between Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian.) Arizona State, churning out one undefeated (or one- or two-loss) season after another, was simply shut out, not only from the big four (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton) but from most bowls, most years, period.

The solution--for the WAC, for Arizona State, for the Phoenix community at large (itself tired of feeling like a suburb of Los Angeles, its citizens receiving boring 10-7 Los Angeles Rams shoveathons week after week)--was the Fiesta Bowl. The very existence of the Fiesta Bowl was, as the sixties became the seventies, a close-run thing; throughout the sixties, the only bowl game approved by the NCAA was the Peach Bowl, a game (incidentally) won by Arizona State to make the school even so much as a blip on the college football radar. The Phoenix businessmen who backed the Fiesta Bowl would follow the Peach Bowl's model, and blend the game with endless charity efforts in the Valley of the Sun. The model was presented, and the NCAA approved.

From the start, there was no question of why the game existed. The Fiesta Bowl was contracted to feature an at-large invitee to play "The WAC champion," but it was clear the game was designed by wealthy Phoenicians as a Valley showcase for Arizona State, period. ASU played in five of the first seven Fiesta Bowls, winning four; had the Fiesta Bowl been incorporated (as it should have been) in 1969, ASU would have played in seven of the first nine, and almost certainly won six. The entire country (by which I mean the football-watching country at large) was in ignorance of the squads ASU coach Frank Kush was turning out year after year--which he did, first, by securing the best (not-insignificant) talent between Texas and the Colorado River; and second, by working and drilling said talent until said talent dropped. The ASU training facility in Northern Arizona is called Camp Tontozona; the hellacious mountain to be climbed at a jogger's pace is called, to this day, Mount Kush.

In the first few years, the Fiesta Bowl was between Arizona State and some offensive-minded independent such as Pittsburgh or Florida State. It was a nice sideshow, a flurry of offense in the dry desert Christmas air, right up until 1975, when ASU went 11-0 in the regular season and intruded in on the AP Top Ten, much like an newly minted oil baron might crash the country club.

The andidote, it seemed, was number three Nebraska, who (in the view of paranoid Sun Devil fans; "They're out to screw us" is embedded in an Arizona sports fans' psyche) seemed sent by the nation's football establishment to squash the Devil uprising. Oklahoma or Ohio State or Notre Dame might have worked, but (Devil fans projected) Nebraska would do. Nebraska was 10-1, having lost only to Oklahoma, and only accepted the Fiesta Bowl invitation the second time it was extended.

Compared to Boise State versus Oklahoma, no one can imagine the sense of David v. Goliath that December 26th, 1975, when the team with the sophomore quarterback (Dennis Sproul), the sophomore receiver (John Jefferson), and the stud cornerback (Mike Haynes) took the field against the Great Red Farm Combine.

I was ten years old, and living in Phoenix. The game itself was a classic, and held my family and I spellbound for every minute of its play. ASU scored two field goals early (courtesy of coach's son Danny Kush). Nebraska responded with two touchdowns; then, when Sproul was injured near the goal line, sophomore back-up Fred Mortensen replaced him. Mortenson's first play: a touchdown pass to Jefferson. His second play: a two-point conversion, another pass, this time to Larry Mucker. 14-14.

Fourth quarter: another Danny Kush field goal. 17-14, ASU. With a few minutes to go, the Huskers began a march toward the end zone. Their lineman blew the Devil defenders off the ball, their running backs were pile drivers. My family, assembled before the black-and-white RCA, sat silent, resolved to our team's fate. Nebraska drove the ball to ASU's 31. Quarterback Terry Luck threw two incompletions. On third-and-ten, he completed a pass to fullback Tony Davis, who was hit by two Devils and fumbled the ball. The Devils recovered and ran out the clock.

Bedlam. Sheer insanity.

To this day, Arizona State 17, Nebraska 14 is a score I keep in my head alongside USA 4, USSR 3. When I heard a commentator say, "Well, 52,000 fans paid for seats they didn't use much today," Yes, I thought, and yes. I was ten. I had never loved a team with such innocence, nor ever would again. (My next sports crush, the late-70s Yankees, would introduce me to winning's ugly side.) I had been given a mini-bike for Christmas a day earlier--the greatest Christmas gift of my life; it was a magical week--and, after the game, as my father drove me and my mini-bike out to a place where I could ride, as we listened to hi-lights of the game on his AM radio--especially Mortensen's heroics--I thought, What a team. What a game!

My father chose a spot of desert that, in a few year's time, would be a golf course. As I puttered up and down the hills, as a typically breathtaking Valley sunset broke pink and orange over the distant mountains, I saw my father through the dust, seated in the Country Squire station wagon, smiling as the game commentary played on the radio.

Rose Bowl, in bits and pieces

4:15. (CST)First possession: Michigan's Hart up the middle for a first down. Then, three-and-out. Michigan punts.

This is a different defense than the Udeze-Tatupu-Cody brick wall of three years ago. Faster, but not as big--certainly not the Great Cardinal and Golden Wall of Troy.

4:20. Booty, first down to Jarrett.

4:30. After a few overthrows, a field coal. 3-0, USC.

4:50. Field goal, Michigan. 3-3.

5:00. Booty alternates terrible throws with great ones . . . fumble on the twenty. Urp.

By the way, those five guys rob Mick Jagger? The ones we're being asked to watch in lieu of LSU-Notre Dame? Alternative title: "You've Just About Heard the Last of Us."

6:40. Gave up the laptop because someone had to haunt up the recipe for the sauce to go with the crab to go with the Galveston Chardonnay we bought some time ago. In the interim, two touchdown, a missed extra point, a field goal for USC. 19-3.

6:42. But Michigan drives. Touchdown. Michigan goes for two . . . and makes it. 19-11.

I've made it my personal mission in life to keep that new TV show's title in my head. "The Lords of Prosperity"? No, really, I'm not kidding.

7:15. Can't keep up . . . they core too fast . . . 32-11, and over. Whatever was going on between Jarrett and #19 for Michigan will probably cost Jarrett the Rose Bowl MVP. Booty will get it.

The MVP of this game, collectively, is the USC defense.

8:45. They divide up the MVP--has this happened before? And Jarrett gets his glory. Well, good.