Fiesta shows us the future, and it's boring and tacky

January 04, 1996|By John Eisenberg

TEMPE, Ariz. -- So, college football's bigwigs went and turned their national championship into a Super Bowl clone, and what did they get?

They got a Super Bowl clone, of course. A lopsided, boring dud starring Steve Spurrier as Marv Levy.

Serves 'em right for injecting some order into the beautifully disordered world of college football.

Oh, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl still provided a valuable service of sorts despite its poor content. It gave us a glimpse of the future, in the form of a new low in corporate sponsor tackiness.

For those who missed it, officials flipped a special Tostitos chip instead of a coin before the game. ("OK, captain, call it in the air, blue corn or low fat?") The championship trophy was a helmeted bronze figure holding a bowl of salsa. There were 71 Tostitos logos hung around the stadium. Each fan entering the gates was given a commemorative Tostitos stamp -- on the forehead.

(OK, some of that stuff didn't really happen. I'm not telling you what. You'll just have to guess.)

After the simplicity, tradition and sheer majesty of the Rose Bowl the day before, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl came off as, well, a little vulgar.

But the worst part came at the end, when there was only one team claiming the national championship in the wake of Nebraska's 62-24 victory. How boring.

A lot of fans want a clear-cut champion decided on the field. I prefer it when the season collapses in a heap of jaw-jutting arguments and nonsensical regionalism as three teams claim the No. 1 ranking. Now, that's college football.

It was a lot more fun last year, when Penn State and Nebraska finished undefeated and Nebraska was awarded the title on the basis of nothing and everyone went around shrieking and wringing their hands.

The anarchy was delicious, if for no reason other than the heartburn it gave to the stat geeks who want the whole world stacked in neat piles.

Remember that year when BYU finished No. 1 after beating a bad Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl and the traditional powers grumped for months about the unfairness of letting poll voters choose a national champion? As if the rest of life were fair. That was a very good year.

Alas, we'll probably rarely have such divine wickedness anymore, now that the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls have formed an alliance intended to deliver a national championship game between No. 1 and No. 2 every year.

As an unabashed member of the anti-playoff lobby -- dead opposed to the idea of using a playoff tournament to determine No. 1 -- I suppose I should be pleased. If not for the alliance, the call for a playoff would be getting stronger every day.

But while the alliance certainly beats a sterile, student-unfriendly playoff at neutral sites, I can't bring myself to toast it too joyously.

Like the white teeth and clean skin of everyone on television, the alliance is just a little too perfect.

It would have been better for Ohio State to go undefeated and win the Rose Bowl, which isn't part of the alliance, at least not yet. The Buckeyes could have claimed the national title along with the winner of the Fiesta Bowl, and alumni from both schools could have swollen up to the size of the Michelin Man as they argued their cases.

But Ohio State lost to Michigan, clearing the way for the Fiesta to be the undisputed national title game. Oh, well.

(After that, I spent December trying to figure out how Rose Bowl-bound Northwestern could finish No. 1, the only appropriate way for this season to end. But there was no way. Only a Fiesta Bowl tie could have opened the door, and the alliance people, leaving no loopholes open in their quest for an undisputed champ, decreed that ties would be broken via sudden death. And then USC beat Northwestern in the Rose Bowl anyway. Grrr.)

The anointed Florida-Nebraska matchup certainly was something to behold -- only the fifth postseason meeting between unbeaten teams -- but the other bowls except the Rose were boring. They didn't mean anything. Only one game, instead of the usual two or three, had championship implications. I liked it better when two or three bowl winners were howling.

But hey, maybe I'm just feeling grumpy because I'm having trouble scrubbing the Tostitos logo off my forehead. The alliance was a success overall, no doubt about it. Sponsors paid $500,000 for a half-minute of advertising during the CBS broadcast. Frito-Lay ponied up $12 million to buy the name for three years. The game was interesting to consider, at least before kickoff.

Make no mistake, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl represents the future of college football. A tidy, made-for-TV ending. No arguments the next day, no sucker punches in the rankings, no illogical explanations from alumni.

It all makes sense.

Too bad.

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