Playoffs? Let’s talk about the playoffs

by Jeff Sykes

The day I’ve been waiting for is finally here. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to see the NCAA institute a college football playoff system.

Imagine all those years of controversy over who was really the number one team in the land at the end of the football smorgasbord on Jan. 1, how they could have been settled once and for all with a playoff system. No more sportswriters picking their favorite regional team like they do with the Heisman Trophy. No more ties between 11-1 teams, with one being left at the proverbial altar, snubbed in favor of some other dandy.

Much like the overtime system we have in place in college football now, the playoff system was a longtime coming. Imagine the pain and suffering Tom Osborne could have avoided in 1983 if he could have played for the tie and legitimately gone into overtime to take his chances against Miami. Instead, he went for that noble two-point conversion, only to have Irving Fryar throw the ball just a little bit behind his wide-open receiver, the ball bouncing off his shoulder pad into infamy.

I found myself bounced down memory lane recently after I discovered the ESPN 30 for 30 joint, Brian and the Boz. You remember the Boz, right? Mohawk with painted sides. Pithy tee-shirt with anti-NCAA message? Steroid test failed, college career ended. Ignoble professional career truncated when Bo Jackson leveled him at the goal line. Yeah, that guy.

Seems the Boz needed to be rehabilitated all these many years later, accepted back into the fold of the mainstream American culture he so adamantly vilified back in the 1980s.

It was a good documentary, a coming full circle for the aged man trying to explain his mistakes to his young son. The most moving part, of course, was when his son came across the infamous “National Communists Against Athletes” tee that Bosworth wore on the sidelines of the 1986 Orange Bowl. He’d been suspended from the game for testing positive for steroids. NBC showed the shirt for all of 10-seconds on air, but those 10 seconds caused enough embarrassment that Barry Switzer ran him out of Norman, Oklahoma and into the NFL.

It was there he was leveled by the freight train known as Bo Jackson.

Watching the film caused me to do one of those things I do, revisit every memory of every big game from my youth. Thanks to Wikipedia and YouTube I can do that now. I remember coming back from the coast with my grandfather in 1980 in early November. UNC had a good football team back then and they were playing Oklahoma. We hadn’t looked at the paper that Sunday morning, and so when I heard on the radio that the Sooners had crushed UNC I was a bit defeated. I knew Oklahoma was tough because they played Florida State, it seemed, every Jan. 1 in the Orange Bowl back then, except the next year when Clemson beat FSU for the national championship.

Other big games I recall were Hershel Walker’s Georgia Bulldogs besting Notre Dame for the title in 1981, only to lose the Sugar Bowl big the next two years. The Sugar Bowl was the big game back then, at least for me, since it was where I discovered my love for the Alabama Crimson Tide and their coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant.

The Tide just happens to be one of the four teams selected for the first NCAA college football playoffs. They’ll face Ohio State in that same Sugar Bowl, a rematch of the 1978 Sugar Bowl, which Alabama won 35-6.

FSU, meanwhile, travels out to Pasadena, California to play in the ‘Granddaddy of them All’, as Keith Jackson would say, against Oregon in the other national semifinal.

The two winners face off the next week in Dallas, Texas in the first true championship game for college football.

It will be in teresting to see if the games live up to their hype, or if the significance of the bowl games is lessened. I tend to think they will be enhanced, even if the semifinal games rotate among the four or five major bowls of the modern era.

More and more people are down on major college sports, and the criticism is much deserved. But at the end of the day, especially in the south, football is inseparable from our culture.

Just take a look at the biggest gathering space in each state, and chances are it’s the football stadium at the major university. !