BCS Title Game Leaves Everyone Wanting More

I’m not lying when I say this, but I fell asleep during the national title game on Monday.

It was that boring.

The snoozefest was only the type of game that a defensive coordinator or a football-loving person from the 1940s could enjoy. This game was better played on a grainy reel with the picture played on the wall and a bleary-eyed coach breaking it down. Ugh.

Yay! You bored all of America! Here's your crystal ball.

National title games are supposed to be exciting. This game was the equivalent of a pitcher’s duel with a bunch of errors.

Whether Alabama and LSU were the best two teams in the nation or not, a title game needs drama. The drama was whether LSU would cross the 50 or not. Yawn.

Give Brent Musberger credit, though, at least he didn’t pull a Kevin Harlan and get caught on camera saying how bored he was.

SEC, if this is representative of your type of exciting big game, you can keep it. What a title game – in any sport – needs is excitement, gut-wrenching coaching decisions, a couple of big plays and a player who elevates above the rest.

Sadly, looking back, there had only been one BCS title game that has had all of those factors. And I was there for it.

January 4, 2006. Rose Bowl. Texas 41, USC 38.

Excitement? With 79 combined points, including 32 in the final quarter, and five lead changes, plus one of the greatest game-winning drives in college history, yeah I’d say there was some excitement.

This guy was worth watching in a BCS Title Game.

Coaches decisions? The only reason Vince Young was able to play Superman in the final moments is because Pete Carroll went for it on 4th-and-2 only to see LenDale White get stuffed. Go for it? Punt? Run a different play? What would you have done?

Big plays? Yes. With Reggie Bush, Matt Lienart and Dwayne Jarrett, USC had all kinds of big plays – even when Bush tried to lateral the ball to a teammate after gaining 35 yards. Then, of course, there was Vince Young who combined for 476 yards of offense. The game set a ridiculous number of offensive records.

Finally, was there a player who became a star? Of course. As I wrote for the Dallas Morning News that day, “Vince Young is a Manimal.” He was a man amongst boys. He single-handedly won that game. He converted a 3rd-and-12 early on that drive, had a 17-yard pass for a first down, then dove into the end zone after an eight-yard run to clinch the game. No doubt he was an animal.

The best part of Monday’s sleeper? That LSU was held scoreless. That was the only high drama. No one wants to watch a field goal fest. How boring was each team’s offense?

Why do we watch football? To be entertained. We want to see big plays and a scoreboard lit up.

Especially in a title game.

NCAA, BCS, Please Give Us Back New Year’s Day

Dear NCAA, BCS Directors, TV execs and President Obama:

Like many Americans, I love January 1 bowl games (and sometimes, like this year, January 2). Sure, I’ll tune in to parts of Dec. 22-Dec. 31 games, but nothing rings in the New Year like gobs of college football.

From the moment my eyes open, adjust to the impending hangover from celebrating the arbitrary stroke of midnight, I look forward to a relationship with my couch and my remote. I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

Yes, a lot of people are upset at the BCS. Parts of me are too, but this letter is not about the computer system or the select conferences entitled to big money. It’s about how you have ruined New Year’s Day. All of you.

New Year’s Day was a combination of Christmas morning and the first weekend of the men’s basketball tournament. It was football on all day, on numerous channels, and with compelling storylines. It was about pageantry, bands at halftime, players overcoming challenges, teams overcoming conference foes, standings and geography being thrown out, colors in the stands and the joy of deciding where to spend my channel-surfing energy.

From top: The drama of the Rose, Fiesta and Sugar Bowls should have all been seen on one afternoon.

Because of television revenue and the NCAA cowering to television’s power, bowl games have been split into a ridiculous amount of teams (72 total this year) and the bowl season – especially this week – has been inexplicably drawn out.

The idea of New Year’s Day is to relax and flip between nearly a dozen bowl games, each (hopefully) with high drama that makes you choose a side and root like a loyal alum.

BCS Directors, you guys are leaving us with unfulfilling match-ups (really? no Boise State?! no Houston?! despite both being top-10 teams?!) and then unfairly treating us to these games eons after New Year’s Day.

What about playing every bowl game worthy of mention (Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Gator, Capital One, etc.) on New Year’s Day, like you used to? Then, a day later – maybe even two – play the national championship game. Use the momentum of that flurry of bowl games to build up to the finale like a fireworks show. And, Mr. President, didn’t you say during your campaign you’d like to create a playoff? Well, under your watch that hasn’t happened and the bowl system has gotten worse. I guess, based on everything else that has happened in your term we shouldn’t be surprised.

Look, don’t have five or six bowl games, then space them out, one at a time, until we forget why the hell we were even interested in the first place. We want multiple games on at once. Let us decide what to watch. Or, heck, even make it like the first round of the hoops tourney – stagger game starts on separate channels so we can see everything happen at its own pace, so long as every game is played on one day.

One of the greatest national title games of the BCS era – Texas and Vince Young vs. USC and Reggie Bush – was played on January 4. Not January 9 like it will be when Alabama and LSU square off this year.

By the time we realize there is a bowl game still being played on January 6, we have forgotten and focused on the NHL or college hoops or the NBA or the NFL playoffs. We have stopped caring. New Year’s Day is to college football what alcohol is to removing a coed’s inhibitions.

Please return it to that.

Random Pro of the Week: Mark Bavaro

Best tight end in football right now?

Is it Antonio Gates? Rob Gronkowski? Jimmy Graham?

One thing is clear, the tight end position enjoyed by those three and many others would not have been as specialized if it wasn’t for Mark Bavaro.

The guy was a stud and was really one of the true pass-catching tight ends who proved to be a dangerous threat.

How do I remember that Bavaro was a stud? Tecmo Bowl, of course.

Aside from Bo Jackson, who is the greatest player in video game history, Bavaro and the New York Giants were the best overall team. Not only was the defense legit, but Bavaro was always good for 10 or so yards on Pass 2, where he ran an out and it was easy pickings.

The reason that Bavaro was so good in Tecmo Bowl was the fact that he was – at least in my mind – a groundbreaking tight end. And he just seemed like the tough football player you wanted on your team. Look at this, where he drags Ronnie Lott at least 10 yards after a hit:

Bavaro changed the game. Sure there were other tight ends who were revolutoinary, but a big, physical tight end like him who could catch and wasn’t afraid to go over the middle became the prototype for the guys who you want on your fantasy team right now.

He also seemed like a bad-ass. His nickname was “Rambo” partially for his resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, but also because he was a beast. If Bavaro had played during the Twitter era, we might have hashtagged him as #beastmode. He may have even been the first to be hashtagged as such.

When was the last time you saw a TE on the cover of the football issue?

Back when Bavaro played it was hand it off to a bruising back and pass to one of your two wide receivers. The passing game had not been revolutionized as it has been now (along with some handy rules in place to aid passing offenses) but Bavaro was on the cutting edge.

Like Al Pedrique, Bavaro was better-known in a video game. Unlike Pedrique, Bavaro was well-known for his ability to be a great playmaker and difference-maker in a video game.

Random Pro of the Week: Leon Lett

Even through the impending food coma and the pumpkin martinis – yes, you read that right; they’re delicious – on Thanksgiving, it was hard not to notice a lot of the attention being paid to former Dallas Cowboys lineman Leon Lett.

Lett, of course, is the buffoon who cost his Cowboys a Thanksgiving day victory in 1993 when he slid in the snow and kicked a blocked field goal attempt. That came 11 months after he tried to showboat into the end zone and had one of the best hustle plays of all time come back to bite him in his super-sized posterior.

It’s not really a shame that Lett is remembered for these two plays since they are so outrageous in trying to place them in a category.

(And, really, when something ridiculous happens in sports, we constantly bring that scenario up again. Look at Bobby Valentine. Just hired by the Red Sox and half the pictures shown of him are when he rocked that fake mustache and glasses combo. The same way Don Beebee is remembered as the guy who ran down Lett and knocked the ball out of his hands.)

Lett was a guy who played on one of the best dynasties in NFL history, winning three Super Bowls – and he wasn’t terrible either as he made two Pro Bowls. Not bad for a guy who was drafted in the seventh round out of Emporia State. (Yeah, try telling us where that is.)

His level of accomplishment for where his career arc should have left him is stunning.

But, he’ll always be remembered for those two plays. How many other athletes are routinely in the center of drama? Recently, we could only think of a couple; and their screw-ups are nowhere near the levels of Lett’s.

Ron Artest and A.J. Pierzynski came to mind first. Artest seems to always be in the middle of something on the court and his place in history as the only fan to run 15 rows into the stands to deliver a haymaker will always immortalize him.

Pierzynski is just a bad guy, often voted among the league’s meanest or dirtiest players, a guy who knows how to get under your skin. His teammates love him for that reason and his opponents hate him.

But those two are just pawns in the grand scheme of the Leon Lett Pantheon. They have a small place there, but nothing gaudy. You know who does?

Dammit! I'm lumped in with Leon Lett!

Alex Rodriguez.

Anytime there’s a scandal in baseball, the game’s richest player is somehow involved. The man tries so damn hard to be well-liked and it always backfires. His relationship with Derek Jeter is toast, he is linked to steroids, he has crossed the line with unwritten rules on the field (crossing the pitcher’s mound and yelling “I got it” while running the bases to prevent a player from catching a pop-up) and most recently he’s involved in the Dan Lozano allegations. Of course he is.

While we might be discussing all of this about A-Rod one day in Cooperstown, he should make sure to thank Leon Lett during his acceptance speech. If only because A-Rod’s bumbles have been frequent but not overwhelmingly memorable. Rodriguez will be remembered for a lot.

Lett is remembered for two things.

Tim Tebow Knows One Thing – How to Win

Spending time in Colorado this last weekend it’s hard not to notice – in bars, restaurants, on the streets, supermarkets and ubiquitous on TV and radio – the effects of Tim Tebow.

From jerseys at every turn to constant chatter of the man, he is the subject right now.

One of these guys is a great quarterback. The other is a winner. You know the difference.

The thing is, though, is that he is so polarizing. All people want to do is see your take on Tebow. Love him or hate him? Are you Tebowing or not? No middle ground. Choose a side. As Danny Ocean told Linus Caldwell in Ocean’s 11 at the pub in Chicago – “You’re either in or you’re out, right now.” No thought process. Pick how you feel and discuss.

How can one player, who has been utterly successful in the only column it matters, be so reviled by some, so loved by others?

Like the DJ Khaled song says “All I do is win, win, win!” That’s all Tebow does – win. And, really, isn’t that what sports is all about?

No coach is measured on the effectiveness of his blitzes, or the precision of his running attack. He is retained for winning, canned for losing. How can John Fox be putting this kid down in the press?

“If we were trying to run a regular offense, he’d be screwed … After the loss to Detroit (a 45-10 blowout), we decided if Tim is going to be our guy, we can’t do that other crap.  We had to tweak it.”

All Tebow has done is bring the Broncos back from extinction under Kyle Orton and thrust them into the playoff picture.

What we don’t understand is how fans can hate Tebow. No one watches Tom Brady for his arm action; people don’t tune in to Drew Brees to see how he orchestrates a drive (although both are appealing). They do it because those two are terrific at their craft and win more than others. They have that “it” factor. So does Tebow. Can we just accept it already?

Not very pretty. Sometimes effective. Usually winning, though.

Mechanics are something to be discussed and broken down ad nausea by the NFL Network during the Combine. That’s the only time they should be brought up. After that, everything is decided on the field.

The kid isn’t go to wow you with his footwork, his arm angle, his reads or his completion percentage.

But he is the reason the Broncos are winning. You think the defense would play balls-out for Kyle Orton? They know if they keep the game close on their side of the ball, Tebow has the ability in the final quarter to put up another W.

The one thing is that while Tebow wins ugly, at least he wins.

Tiger Woods knew – emphasis on knew – how to win when it mattered. He looked good doing it, though.

Derek Jeter is referred to as a winner. Yet, he also does a lot of things fundamentally sound.

But, Tebow kind of reminds us of a player that had the “it” factor, someone who just knew what it took to win. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

Trent Dilfer. Yup. Trent Dilfer.

Yeah, he wasn't great, but he knew how to win.

True, Dilfer had great size (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and a strong arm and was a solid pocket-passing quarterback. But, he wasn’t Brett Favre. He wasn’t Peyton Manning. He wasn’t even Warren Moon. Those guys could use their supreme skills to engineer drives and rocket throws between defenders and had so much talent it was damn near impossible for them not to win.

However, Dilfer and Tebow aren’t Ryan Leaf. Or JaMarcus Russell. Or David Klingler. Those QB’s had great arms and were physical beasts. They just didn’t have that “it” factor. They couldn’t get W’s.

Dilfer played on some bad teams and he played on some good ones. He retired with a 58-55 overall record, which isn’t great, but it’s better than most. He stuck around the league because he was a good enough quarterback, he wasn’t going to kill you, and he had that intangible. Plus, he guided a team with a terrible offense to a Super Bowl win.

Who knows if Tebow will win a Super Bowl or make a Pro Bowl (Dilfer made one), but right now, the kid shouldn’t be filleted. He should be celebrated. He wins. And, as Nuke LaLoosh famously screamed on the bus in Bull Durham “I love winning, man! I fucking love winning! You know what I’m saying? It’s like, better than losing!”

Athletes Who Die in Their Prime

It was on this date four years ago when Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor was shot during a home invasion and died. That tragic event led us to scour the Internet in search of athletes who passed away during their prime.

Now, prime is to be considered the crescendo of their playing existence. While many athletes have tragically passed away when they’re still of playing age, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were lost during their “prime.”

Nick Adenhart, a pitcher with a rising star, died in a car accident a few years ago but at 22, he wasn’t in his prime. Dale Earnhardt died while racing, but he was 49 years old. Hardly his prime. Lou Gehrig died at 37; Roberto Clemente at 38. Tremendous players, both, Hall of Famers, but not in their prime.

See, losing an athlete while he is still capable of playing is a tragic event, both for the organization, teammates and fans, not to mention the player’s family and friends. Typically these guys are in prime – that word again – physical condition and are often thought of as “untouchable” as ridiculous as that is.

When Taylor was shot and killed, he was 24, was a college All-American, and was already a two-time Pro Bowler. His future was very bright. Len Bias and Hank Gathers could both be classified as passing away in their primes. As could Steve Prefontaine and Thurman Munson.

An athlete’s prime is typically a max of a decade, and oftentimes only a few years. These are the times when these entertainers are supposed to provide lengthy highlight reel moments for the rest of us to enjoy.

Hugh Hefner is still considered in his prime.

That’s one of the largest differences between sports as a profession and a normal job. Someone working a typical job can be productive and in his/her “prime” for several decades. Hell, look at Hugh Hefner.

Death is always a tragic occurrence. It just makes it more so when an athlete, one of the best at his craft in the world, is gone too soon. Gone before his career arc could be completed. Gone before he has achieved all he could. Gone before we could truly appreciate what they could have brought to the field, to a team, to a city.

It doesn’t make athletes any more or less human – so many have died in car accidents, prone to the same circumstances all of us “regular” humans are. It’s just harder to accept – as it is when a healthy 25-year-old is killed in everyday life – when we have to say goodbye to an athlete in the prime of their life.

Random Pro of the Week: Tony Zendejas

By Ben Alkaly

My teenage years were generally a blur of hating math class, crushes on girls way outta my league and the occasional bout of acne.  But one memory – involving a truly random sports pro – stands out like a beacon of light.

One Friday morning circa 1992-93, I was flipping through the LA Times Sports section, and there on page 10 or so (when newspapers actually had 10+ pages of sports) was a two-inch tall, one-column ad reading “SATURDAY: MEET RAMS KICKER TONY ZENDEJAS AT CARL’S JR. IN CULVER CITY”.

Mainly because of its location – at a fast food restaurant many miles from Orange County – I was rather perplexed by this public appearance by a semi-celebrity, but also intrigued.  At that time in my adolescence I was a blossoming Raider fan, however I had a healthy respect for Tony Zendejas, who had previously booted balls for the LA Express of the USFL.  He was Mexican-American and a SoCal native, and I’ve always felt sports teams should at least somewhat reflect the region they represent, even in this era of high-priced free agency, luxury suites and corporate sponsorships.

Not to mention, Tony Z. was enjoying a nice little career with Los Carneros.  In 1991 he became the first kicker in NFL history to nail every field goal attempt on the season, however the fact that he only went 17-for-17 suggests the Rams’ offense was rather impotent that year.  Actually, their 3-13 record in 1991 confirms as much.

Anywho, that Friday at school I made a bee-line for my friends Allan, Larry and Eli – also fellow Silver and Black supporters – and could barely contain my bizarre enthusiasm.

“Dude, for some reason Tony Zendejas is signing autographs tomorrow at the Carl’s Jr. five minutes from here…we gotta go!”

It didn’t take much persuasion – they were all in for Operation Meet Zendejas.  Since we didn’t yet have our driver’s licenses, and nobody’s parents agreed to drive us to (and wait around at) such an absurd event, we took the bus down Venice Blvd.  We arrived early to beat the expected crowd, four Jewish boys chowing down on Western Bacon Cheeseburgers and fried zucchini (tangent: while dining at CJ’s, I always opt for zucchini over fries – it’s such a unique menu item among fast food establishments).

Sure enough, at the stated time of 1 p.m., in walks Zendejas and a Rams’ team handler.  He plops down at a booth in all its vinyl and linoleum glory, and a small-but-steady stream of football fans approached the proud Chino Hills High School alum who had emigrated here from Curimeo, Michoacán, Mexico (thanks, Wikipedia!).

When it was our turn to meet the man, all I could muster was “So, um, why are you out here all the way in West LA?” which was met with a reply of “The Rams asked me to be here.”

Our author still holds dear his autographed card.

That was that.  I left Carl’s Jr. with an autographed card that made its way into a Protecto sleeve and placed among my other sports collectibles, as well as lingering questions about why it was necessary for a 10-year NFL veteran to hold a meet-n-greet at a burger joint. There didn’t even appear to be a promotional tie-in to Carl Karcher’s empire.

Fast-forward to 2008, and while thumbing through that same LA Times Sports section, I was met with this dismaying headline: “FORMER RAM TONY ZENDEJAS ARRESTED ON RAPE CHARGE”.  Had I, 14 years earlier, exchanged pleasantries and a handshake with a sexual predator?  At his ensuing trial, I almost wanted to stand on the courthouse steps and re-enact the legendary (and mythical) “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” exchange from the Black Sox Scandal.

Without taking “Random Pro of the Week” too far to the dark side, let’s just say Zendajas was acquitted of all charges in 2009, and we at Throwback Attack hope the accuser has been able to move on with her life.

Meanwhile, the former Univ. of Nevada standout has clearly put the incident behind him.  Perhaps that Carl’s Jr. autograph signing left a lasting impact on Zendejas since he’s now a restaurateur himself, in that famous football-loving suburban enclave of San Dimas, Calif. Tony invites one and all to become his friend on Facebook, and on his behalf, I kindly request that any of you with HTML coding skills help bring the website for Zendejas Mexican Restaurant into the current millennium.

It’s been my pleasure to guest-blog “Random Pro of the Week” this Thanksgiving Eve, and I hope you enjoyed my tale of meeting a most random pro, in a most random location, one random Saturday in the early 1990’s.  I’ll never be able to enjoy a Six-Dollar Burger without the word “Zendejas” whispering through my mind …

Ben Alkaly has been a sports industry professional for over 20 years, dating back to working in a baseball card shop at age 14.  His Tony Zendejas “Drug Use is Life Abuse” autographed card remains the most valuable item in his personal collection.