The final full-pads practice of his life was just a couple of hours away. A couple hours earlier, he had attended a "Global Competitive Strategies" class and a philosophy class called "The Self." Also on this semester's docket: "Economic Institutions" and another general philosophy class.
Jeff Egizi obviously is a bright guy, and well-spoken. He went to the kind of New England prep school where everybody wears matching blazers and ties. Unlike many such schools, his was coed, at least.
But don't make the mistake of presuming that Egizi (pronounced E-git-zee) is a pointy-headed elitist who sort of plays football as a hobby, approaching it like a club sport. His identity might not be solely centered around football, like those of many players at schools like Alabama, USC or Penn State. But football is very important to him. He might not go through spring practice, but he works hard in the weight room year-round, just like the guys at those bigger schools. When he thinks of the favorite moments of his
life so far, they involve playing football.
That's why, this weekend, Egizi will be nervous, inspired, energized and maybe a little choked up. As a receiver for Division III Williams College, he will play the final football game of his life Saturday. He will put on the pads, pull that purple jersey over his head, look into the eyes of the buddies he has spent the past four years with and run out on the football field one last time. On his campus. Against his school's archrival for the past 122 years, the Amherst Lord Jeffs.
The seniors on both sides will share the same emotions. Members of the NESCAC conference decided long ago to eschew the Division III football playoffs, even though athletes in the 30-plus other varsity sports at these schools do seek national championships.
That's another story, though. I am glad I will be able to see it all play out. Saturday morning, "GameDay" will broadcast from Williams' campus. It is tucked into the
extreme northwest corner of Massachusetts, about four miles south of Vermont and seven miles east of New York. It took a few minutes for me to find it in my
Rand McNally. You take a blue road to get there. I expect it will be very picturesque.
Why go there, you fans of the SEC and Big Ten powers ask? Well, we've been looking for an opportunity to showcase the passion and the purity of D-III ball for a few years. This is that opportunity, a rivalry that dates to 1821, when Amherst broke off from Williams because then-Williams president Zephaniah Swift Moore thought it a better idea to move the school to a more populated part of the Commonwealth. Moore recruited (or "stole," from Williams' perspective) some faculty, students and even some books from the library to found Amherst. Williams never really got over it. They have long memories in rural New England.
Some of the early games reportedly were just glorified brawls between students. In the infamous 1928 edition, Amherst coaches dressed one of their own in a Williams uniform and sent him onto the field to confuse their rivals. Officials detected the ruse and forced the player to strip off his uni in full view of the amused fans.
It is a strong rivalry in a lot of sports, but football produces the most buzz. I am told there will be perhaps 10,000 to 12,000 fans there Saturday, finding space outside of the limited bleacher seating. And they won't be there to see Lee Corso put on the mascot head of the "Ephs" (purple cows) or the "Lord Jeffs." Come to think of it, I don't know what the mascots look like. Or whether they even indulge in such frivolity up there. I'll have to get back to you on that. But I'm sure L.C. will find some way to produce visual comedy surrounding the show's climax. When we featured Penn and Harvard some years back, he dressed as Ben Franklin to pick the Quakers. Maybe Saturday, he will channel Calvin Coolidge, an Amherst man, or James Garfield, who went to Williams. Heck, maybe even the reclusive George Steinbrenner will make an appearance. He went to Williams.
The Ephs are favored. Williams (5-2) hasn't lost on its home field to Amherst (4-3) since 1985. The Ephs are led by senior quarterback Pat Lucey, twice the conference and ECAC Division III offensive player of the year. Lucey is the kind of versatile athlete and gutsy leader you want at the helm. He hobbled through a couple of early losses with plantar fasciitis (a ligament injury causing stabbing pain in the heel). He made a lot of interceptions but didn't make excuses. Now the man is healthy and quite charged up. Lucey is not loosey-goosey. But then, you wouldn't want that while approaching a game this big.
We're just glad that Amherst-Williams will have us this time. ESPN wanted to televise the 100th edition in 1985, and Amherst's coach at the time, Jim Ostendarp, declined. "We're in the education business, not the entertainment business," he supposedly said.
Well, coach, we most certainly are in the entertainment business. We're glad there has been a change of heart. We think it will be plenty entertaining Saturday.
D-III Did You Know?
I have heard devotees of the division call themselves "D-III geeks." Unless you are one, you certainly will flunk the little pop quiz I am about to deliver. Don't worry,
the "GameDay" set would go oh-fer, too.
Name the nicknames of the following schools:
A couple of other noteworthy games in D-III on Saturday include rivalry battles for the Cortaca Jug (Cortland versus Ithaca) and the annual Indiana collision for one of my favorite "trophies," a 258-pound hunk of metal in a big wooden frame called the Monon Bell.
The No. 1 team in Division III is perennial power Mt. Union. If you think Ohio State's defense is having a great season, that's nothing compared to the Purple Raiders. They have pitched five straight shutouts and gone seven straight games without allowing a touchdown heading into Saturday's collision with lowly Marietta College. Take that, Laurinaitis and Gholston!
On to the big boys
("Finally," you say?)
Speaking of the Buckeyes, I wonder how many other pollsters are like me: wrestling with the contradiction that Ohio State has not really proven itself to be the "best" team in the nation so far but is sitting at the top of our ballot as the "most deserving"? Maybe I don't have the guts to vote a team or two with a loss over an unbeaten team with a big name from a big conference. (Kansas is only one for two on that count, and Hawaii well, sorry, it's zero for two).
Maybe if I were not so bound by conventional thinking, I would vote something like this: Oregon, LSU, Ohio State, West Virginia, Oklahoma. Maybe I will see the light in the coming weeks, if the Buckeyes struggle. I remember what Oregon did in the Big House: race to a 32-7 lead and make the Wolverines look slow, confused and outdated. That was a Michigan team that was supposed to be filled with fire, bent on redemption after the Appalachian State fiasco.
I never have been less convinced about my No. 1 team in mid-November.
Yes, the Buckeyes have passed all their tests so far, while those other teams have not. That's why they are No. 1. I watched from the sidelines as they bruised and beat down Penn State a few weeks ago. They were superb in all phases. But that's the closest thing to a high-quality win they have. It is not the fault of the players, but the schedule is not a typical OSU slate. They have not been tested by a really good team. Sorry, Wisconsin does not qualify. Minus P.J. Hill, the Badgers still were tied early in the fourth quarter last week in Columbus. That's the bunch that went to Penn State and got swamped 38-7. Penn State is OK, but not that strong. Purdue is average.
If not for tradition and the obvious wow factor that Ohio State's players provide when you see them on the hoof, I don't think they would be No. 1. There is no doubt that they are a really impressive-looking group of athletes. And that's sort of how you have to evaluate them at this point, lacking a wow-factor win: like a player-personnel guy. Tressel and staff have recruited very, very well. There are great athletes all over the place (especially the back seven of the top-rated defense). They are very impressive.
Exactly how good are they, when faced with an enormous test? Maybe we'll find out in the Big House. Maybe we won't find out until another trip to the BCS title game. Against another team from the SEC. In the Superdome. In a road game. Win that one, and there won't be a shred of doubt lingering in the mind of any
voter. Until then, there will be, at least here.
Like everyone else who has covered this sport for years, I have my list of Orange Bowl memories. Broadcasting the Miami-Texas A&M game early this season, I looked out at the place, and they all came flowing back. As the Canes close their era in the "Old Horseshoe in Little Havana" with Virginia's visit Saturday (ESPN2, 7:15 p.m. ET), here's a quick list of the most enduring moments I have spent there.
1. Colorado survives the "Rocket" scare to win the Orange Bowl and the 1990 AP national title. I saw the flag fly early in Raghib "Rocket" Ismail's punt return, so there wasn't the shock and outrage many watching on TV experienced when Dick Enberg finally spotted the flag after Notre Dame's Ismail had crossed the goal line. Hey, there wasn't any shock and outrage, period. I went to Colorado, and back then, I was a lot less detached than I am now. I was a student during the program's darkest days. To have the ol' alma mater win a title a few short years later was a thrill.
2. The 1986 Oklahoma-Miami game. I never will forget my first game in person at the stadium I had seen host so many amazing football moments growing up, from the heroics by Jim O'Brien to Joe Willie to Doug Flutie. It was an electric day, won by Vinnie Testaverde and the home underdogs.
3. Florida State's crazy, drawn-out Orange Bowl win over Nebraska to claim the 1993 national title. The story lines were so powerfully drawn going in, and the last
two minutes (which must have taken 45 minutes to play) come back to me like they happened yesterday, not 14 years ago.
4. One crazy matinee: Miami's 1998 upset of No. 1 UCLA, which featured a rally from being down 38-28 at the end of three quarters. Cade McNown kept throwing it to Brian Poli-Dixon and Danny Farmer, and Edgerrin James cut through the Bruins like they were warm butter. McNown passed for 513 yards, and James romped for 299. Both made a lot of future NFL cash that day, and both defenses left humiliated: the game produced 1,359 yards and finally was won by Miami, 49-45. Later that day, Kansas State blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead to lose to Texas A&M, allowing FSU and Tennessee to claim spots in the first BCS game. It was the wildest final day of the season I have witnessed, and it all started with the game that left us shaking our heads in amazement for four-plus hours.
5. A tie for fifth between many of the Hurricanes' night games I have witnessed there. Any Miami sack in the closed west end of the O.B. brought forth an avalanche of noise, a roar reserved for just that occasion. I will miss those. I am guessing Miami fans have been missing them for awhile! When UM got after Stephen McGee of A&M that Thursday night this year ... well, it was a watered-down reminder of what used to be. It never will be the same in Dolphins Stadium, or whatever it is being called at the moment.
A few more tidbits
Curious to see this Saturday if:
• Darren McFadden has enough gas in the tank to run through Tennessee like he did in last week's amazing display against South Carolina. It has not been D-Mac's best year, but he still has to be on anybody's short list for "Most Outstanding Player," I think.
• UCLA can operate an offense with emergency quarterback Osaar Rasshan. With injuries to Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, and the brutal display from third-teamer McLeod Bethel-Thompson against Notre Dame (hey, Irish fans, remember that name he might be a trivia question if UCLA proves to be ND's only win of '07!), embattled Karl Dorrell doesn't have any options left but to go with the speedy but totally green, previously underachieving, mostly unprepared, converted wide receiver. The offense has been stripped to the bare essentials as ASU comes into town Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Can Rasshan stay alive, run around and make something happen? What hurts is that the Bruins' top two running backs are out, too.
Before I go
Oh, yeah. You need the answers for the nickname pop quiz.
All hail the: Hamline Pipers, Whittier Poets, Knox Prairie Fire, Oberlin Yeomen and Tufts Jumbos. And we'll see you from Division III on Saturday morning!
Chris Fowler is the host of ESPN's "College GameDay." Kick off each Saturday with "College GameDay" at 10 a.m. ET to get the latest news on college football.