Friday, January 8, 2010

On The Final College Football Game of the Season

A few disjointed thoughts on a bizarre championship game:

--In 1972, the NCAA permitted freshman athletes to participate in football and basketball; in the 1980s,* with the NCAA considering a repeal of said rule, a freshman named "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison led Louisville to the national championship in college basketball. Hence, the notion of youth conquering all plowed ahead, and in the two decades since, we have come to expect remarkable accomplishments, sans neurosis, from the blue-chip adolescents who now essentially form the core of college basketball. If John Wall melts down, we don't blame youth; we blame John Wall.

In football, I know, freshmen are not quite as impactful, but I will admit, when Garrett Gilbert entered the game for Texas last night, I kind of figured he'd be fine. None of these guys get nervous anymore, I thought. Maybe he'd struggle with reads and progressions and blitzes and all the inherent complications of the position--maybe the football would bring him down--but I didn't imagine that anyone who was deemed strong enough in his inaugural season to back up Colt McCoy--not to mention win a pair of Texas high-school state championships, which is about as emotionally stresstful as running for governor anywhere else--would become so emotionally bamboozled. I mean, you could actually see Gilbert melting down into a puddle of adolescent angst come halftime; his body language was more overtly frightened than anything I'd seen on a football field (barring catastrophic injury) in many years. It's not something we witness very often anymore, and it was kind of humanizing and Saracen-esque,**and I'm relieved Gilbert was able to pull himself together in the end, because for a while there, I thought we might be witnessing the implosion of an otherwise promising career. Now I have this feeling we'll see him in this game again, and he won't appear nearly as uptight the second time around. Though I can't say the same for his coach, who appeared to plow through an entire case of Juicy Fruit in the first half.

--Speaking of coaches: Even when being showered with Gatorade, Nick Saban comes across as an entirely dishonorable human. He got away with that doltishly overaggressive fake punt early--basically, if McCoy plays one more series in the first quarter, Texas probably wins the game--and I have to imagine this will be the last championship he wins at Alabama. I have to imagine it will all seem far too easy for him after this, that he will lose interest, that his program will become embroiled in scandal or general malaise, and he will bolt in the middle of the night for a new challenge, while assuring us all along that he had no interest in the job he just took until 9/11 changed his life forever.

--Boise State deserves at least a few first-place votes. Boise State could have played Alabama tight. Anyone who doesn't believe that was not paying attention.

*In 1986, to be exact, which you can read all about in this book. Now with updated cover art!
**There is no question that Friday Night Lights completely altered the way I viewed that game last night. I'm starting to think it's permanently altered the way I view football players. If Moneyball was the previous decade's ultimate triumph of rationality over emotion, Friday Night Lights is its polar opposite. It's made watching football far more emotionally charged than ever before.

(Photo: Rodolfo Gonzalez, Austin-American Statesman)

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