New Year’s Day used to be a great feast for college football fans. All four major bowl games of yesteryear — Cotton, Sugar, Rose, and Orange — were played basically in a row on January 1. Absent any serious quirks, fans could watch nothing but top-ten ranked teams play each other. By the end of the day, it was usually clear who was the best team in college football. But not always. At the end of the 1969 season (if I recall the year correctly), President Nixon, perhaps pursuant to his southern strategy, declared Texas the national champs even though an undefeated Penn State team had a claim just as good.
These days, January 1 has lost most of its football luster. Apparently someone in power concluded that, out of habit or boredom, football fans would watch whatever fare they were served that day, and that it would therefore be more profitable to spread the top games out on prime time over the next few days. Thus, few if any marquee match-ups occur on New Year’s Day anymore. Yesterday, for example, only the Rose Bowl — Michigan vs. Southern Cal — seemed to have any sex appeal.
It was the Fiesta Bowl that intrigued me, however. It featured Boise State vs. Oklahoma. The Sooners were a clear top 10 team. Boise State was harder to peg. Undefeated but having played a weak schedule, I figured they could legitimately be rated anywhere from the second best to perhaps the 20th best team in the country. They didn’t figure to blow out Oklahoma. But eager to enhance their growing reputation, they didn’t figure to go down easily either.
The game turned out to be one of the best college games I’ve ever seen. Boise State went up by 18 in the third quarter, only to watch Oklahoma put up 25 unanswered points to take a 7 point lead into the last minute. On fourth down and very long from midfield, Boise State pulled out the “hook and ladder” play (pass over the middle to one receiver who laterals on the fly to another). That bit of trickery produced a touchdown with only seven seconds remaining.
The game then went into overtime, where Oklahoma proceeded to score a touchdown on its first play. Since college football doesn’t use “sudden death,” Boise State got its turn, but had to score a touchdown. Again facing fourth down, it again turned to a trick play, sending its quarterback in motion and using a wide-receiver to throw the crucial pass. Natuarlly, it went for a touchdown.
Mercifully for fans who had to work the next morning, Boise State again threw away the book and decided to go for a two-point conversion. That meant the game would have to end on that play. The coaching staff then selected the oldest trick play of them all — the Statue of Liberty. In this play, the quarterback pulls the ball back over his shoulder as if to pass, while another player runs behind him and grabs the ball for a run. I would have thought that, if this antique were ever to be used in the modern game, it would occur with more field to work with than is available for a “point[s] after touchdown.” Yet the play worked and Boise State won 43-42.
So Boise State ends up undefeated, and if once-defeated Florida upsets undefeated Ohio State in the “championship game,” the Idaho upstarts will have a respectable claim to be the nation’s top college team. Wouldn’t it be better to return to four top games on New Year’s Day, and to make them quarterfinal match-ups for the national championship?
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
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