No. 1 isn't bad, Lou: Just ask Bobby Ross

MIKE LITTWIN

November 12, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

What's wrong with Lou Holtz? Everyone in the world wants to be No. 1 except Lou. A school breaks a 63-game losing streak, and you watch: The players go rushing off the field with an index finger pointed skyward. We're No. 1, they want to say. We're No. 16, whispers Holtz.

This refusal to be No. 1 smacks of un-Americanism.

Holtz coaches Notre Dame, which, according to the laws of nature as we understand them, is supposed to be No. 1. People assume it, the way they assume water will always go down the drain clockwise. Or is it counterclockwise? Whatever. Ask your typical person in the street who's No. 1 and you can expect one of only two responses: One, it's Notre Dame; two, it's not Saddam Hussein. (Yes, just like every football coach and general you've ever met, I get football and war confused, too. Wasn't it Vince Lombardi who said, "Football is hell"?)

So, what's the deal with Holtz? Notre Dame, which is No. 1 in all the polls, won a tough game Saturday at Tennessee, a top 10 team. That means Notre Dame will remain No. 1, although Holtz is sure to say: "My golly, we're just not a very good football team. I doubt if we could get a win in an intrasquad scrimmage."

He doesn't mean that, does he? If Holtz were to speak the truth, it would probably go this way: "Who do you think has the best team -- Navy? We've got first-round draft picks on the scout squad. If our linemen were any bigger, they'd have their own zip code. If we're not No. 1, it's gotta be the 49ers."

Whatever the truth, Notre Dame's season will end in Miami in the Orange Bowl against Colorado, which should move up to No. 2 this week, thereby setting up a chance at the kind of championship game that makes every red-blooded football fan proud to be one. If there's one thing that your gen-u-ine football fan can't stand is a season that ends without a clear-cut No. 1. That's why most people want a national championship tournament, but, short of that, a No. 1 vs. a No. 2 is just fine.

Except it may not work out that way.

Which is why I want to introduce you to Bobby Ross. Oh, you've already met? Yep, he's the guy who says things like: "No. 1-wise, I'd love it to be us." Yes, he was an English major. Honest.

For those who may have forgotten, memory-wise, Ross used to coach the University of Maryland's football team until he left to coach Georgia Tech's football team, which, he said, was his lifelong dream. That was before, in his first years in Atlanta, Bobby Ross became known as Bobby Loss as Tech suffered mightily. Even Maryland, under Joe Krivak, seemed to be in better shape. Until now.

Now, Krivak edges ever closer to a job, say, as alumni contributions coordinator while Ross turns Georgia Tech into a powerhouse, sort of.

After beating Virginia, top-ranked at the time, a week ago Saturday, Georgia Tech, unbeaten and once tied, moved from a team that nobody even noticed, championship-wise, to a top 10 team and legitimate contender. If you get in the top 10 these days and can just avoid losing, good things will inevitably follow. The latest good thing for Georgia Tech is that the pollsters will vote the team either No. 3 or No. 4. That, despite Tech having scored only six points against Virginia Tech and needing a last-minute field goal to secure the win. But, as Washington or Houston or Iowa would surely point out, a win is a win is a win.

And so Georgia Tech -- which can't be that good, can it? -- is on a path that could end up in a national championship. You read it here first. Ross, who mangles the English language but who kin coach, who is best remembered at College Park for whining about either a lack of administration support or a lack of lifelong dreams, might be national champ. What do you think, Lou? Crazy, huh?

Here's how it could work. Notre Dame has accepted a bid to the Orange Bowl, but before the Irish get to Miami they lose to either Penn State or Southern Cal. (Holtz on Penn State: "I don't think we could beat them if we had Joe Montana back.") Then Notre Dame beats Colorado, meaning both teams are knocked out. Miami has two losses. You can't win a title with two losses, even if you play an NFL-like schedule. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech has only to get past Georgia (in an off season) and Wake Forest (it's always an off season) to remain unbeaten entering the Citrus Bowl.

Logically, we can assume that Tech would lose to either Nebraska or Florida State, which are thought to be Citrus Bowl candidates. Nebraska is a real football power.

But you can't depend on logic. If you could, Lou "OK, OK, maybe we're No. 8" Holtz would be glad to be No. 1 while he can.

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