|Ah, the revelry of a rivalry|
By Brian Murphy
Page 2 columnist
Ah, I love the smell of Rivalry Weekend.
It smells like ... yearning.
Amid a nation of loud louts and bad taste, Rivalry Weekend stands tall.
A Saturday in late November, TV filled with images from classic college football clashes, Thanksgiving 'round the corner, neighborhood Mud Bowl games dialed up ... man, it's enough to make a guy yearn for his past.
Let's own up: How phenomenal was college?
I'm 36 now, and not a day of paying bills or being hassled by The Man goes by that I don't think: Geez, how good does my Italian literature class from senior year look right now?
The scouting report:
College: Tuition, room and board paid by parents. Intellectual pursuit daily. Surrounded by babes. Fast food -- not only readily available, but eaten with abandon, unencumbered by the shame of thirtysomething portliness.
This is why this weekend -- Rivalry Weekend -- is so alluring.
As a kid on the West Coast, it was the stuff of mythology. It started at 9:30 a.m., with Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler patrolling the sidelines on ABC. It would be cold in the Midwest, sometimes snowy, and Ohio State and Michigan -- names like Griffin, Leach, Schlichter and Carter -- played the game to decide the Big Ten's Rose Bowl participant. The Wolverines and Buckeyes, poetic images from the rough-and-tumble Midwest ... it was almost enough to make one overlook the fact that the average offensive play in an OSU-Michigan clash went for 2.3 yards.
The day only got better at around 12:30 p.m., when USC and UCLA battled in the L.A. Coliseum to decide the Pac-10's Rose Bowl entry. This was before the Bruins moved to the Rose Bowl, and before the NCAA, Taliban-like, decreed that one team must wear road white jerseys. Before that edict? 'SC and UCLA in cardinal and baby blue in the low autumn sunlight of L.A. ... I defy Van Gogh to paint more vibrant colors.
(Of course, Van Gogh is dead; and if he were alive, he'd likely have trouble hearing my mandate, what with that one ear gone and all.)
Anyway, Rivalry Weekend rules.
Look at the esteemed universities that have to take a powder during Rivalry Weekend:
Penn State? JoePa's boys should slate Pitt for the third or fourth Saturday in November, every year. I guarantee I'd watch. Instead? They've got Michigan State, which screams mid-October. Bummer.
Wisconsin? Surely, one of America's greatest good-time schools should have a rivalry to rivet us. Instead, they play Iowa, probably for one of those bogus Big Ten "rivalry" trophies, like The Old Sweaty Sock.
Tennessee? The Vols host Vanderbilt, which isn't so much a Rivalry Weekend game as it is a spring football exhibition.
Now, now, now. I'm not counting epic rivalries like Army-Navy and Texas-Oklahoma, simply because I'm talking only about Rivalry Saturday in November. And I'm sure there are plenty of local rivalries that fire up the natives, like UMass-Rhode Island (winner gets to hang Grady Little in effigy from the school clock tower) and Miami (Ohio)-Ohio -- where, if Ohio wins, they force Miami (Ohio), to drop (Ohio) from its letterhead for a year.
It's just that only a few games capture us nationwide.
Forthwith, then, a thumbnail sketch of what you need to know this Rivalry Weekend:
Overview: Two of America's oldest universities tussle on the gridiron, the very names of their alums conjuring up memories of luminaries from our nation's past: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jennifer Beals.
What's at Stake: If Yale wins, Eli G.W. Bush gets to write Crimson Conan O'Brien's monologue for a day, rife with awkward jokes like, "Q: How many Iraqi Republican Guards does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: I don't know. Karl Rove hasn't told me the punchline yet." If Harvard wins, the Crimson get to remind Yalies, every day, that G.W. Bush graduated from New Haven.
Then watch 'Double B' get pelted with empty Southern Comfort bottles.
What's at Stake: Apparently, every fiber of every soul associated with Alabama or Auburn. Tough to argue there.
Overview: One of our nation's great, classic rivalries, with both teams combining for a million Big Ten titles. Alums from both schools beam with pride. And if Ohio State's Art Schlichter ever met Michigan hoopster Chris Webber, he might say: "Man, if I had the college payday you had, I could have made a killing with my bookie."
What's at Stake: In the Midwest, everything. Winner, at least back then, went to sunny California. Loser sat in snowbound misery, eating White Castle burgers and increasing the Midwest's obesity demographic.
What's at Stake: For 'SC fans, a win is a chance to strut, while ignoring past ills such as former Heisman winner Charles White using a garbage can lid as a shield in a drug-addled haze, or O.J. Simpson's status as a Trojan. For UCLA fans, a loss is a chance to chirp, "Basketball season is a week away!"
What's at Stake: If BYU wins, Utah's near-beer is confiscated and replaced with apple juice. If Utah wins, a movement is set afoot to install ex-BYU QB Jim McMahon as chancellor of his alma mater, and he is given carte blanche to rewrite the code of conduct.
All that said, remember to enjoy Rivalry Weekend, whether you're in Lehigh (hating Lafayette), or Oregon (hating Oregon State), or Washington State (hating Washington).
Remember: What the world needs now, are rivalries, sweet rivalries.
Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes every Monday for Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.