Cinderella sure didn't wear a college football uniform

January 07, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

There are no Cinderellas in college football.

Boise State should be Cinderella. But it's not. It doesn't have the chance to be. It's a historical footnote, a talking point, in some ways maybe even a cultural touchstone. But it won't be the rags-to-riches story every other American sport gets to tell.

A warning: This isn't going to be a rant demanding a college football playoff, nor a sober, reasoned debate in favor of one. Why waste time on that? This system of crowning a national college football "champion" might not be set in stone, but it's bolted down pretty tight. No previous rants or sober discussions have worked. The powers-that-be want their bowls. They want their 1-vs.-2 game, their Super Bowl, no matter how illogical the choice of 1 and 2 was.

Their only responses to the rants have been tweaks, such as the one manifested in tomorrow night's Ohio State-Florida "showdown" - which at least is exhibiting enough integrity not to call itself a "bowl" game. It's the Bowl Championship Series national championship game, sponsored by blah blah whatever.

There won't be a playoff. No tournament. No seedings. No blending a new system into the old bowl system. No merging a new paradigm with old and understandably beloved traditions.

And no maneuvering around class schedules - in fact, let's try for a little honesty and not even engage the whole disrupting-the-class-schedule argument, which would mean pointing out that the regular season has been expanded and the bowl lineup padded so much that concerns about academic integrity were rendered irrelevant long ago.

They want money, but then again, you and I want money, too, and so do the players, so what's the point of getting all purple in the face about it?

Forget all that. Don't you want Cinderellas?

Because every other sport gets one, and college football has never had one.

Boise State could have been George Mason. It could have been Villanova. It could have been the 1969 Mets or the Patriots of 2001 or last year's Steelers. Or the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals or Miami Heat. Or, what the heck, Coppin State.

Or - and it's a stretch, but still - the 1980 Olympic hockey team.

Some of the aforementioned teams made you go from scrunching up your face and saying, "How did they get in?" to smacking your forehead and shouting, "How did that happen?" Others came out of nowhere, unheralded, or came out of nowhere and should have been heralded.

All left us wondering how we missed them and marveling at how they'd beaten the odds. A little Cinderella, a little David and Goliath. There's a reason those stories have stood the test of centuries, why they appeal to us so much now, especially in sports.

Boise State was this year's "Yeah, but" team. Yeah, the Broncos were undefeated, but against whom? Well, now they get Oklahoma, the Fiesta Bowl, New Year's Day, the real deal. Then we'll see.

Yes, did we ever see.

The Broncos were the underdogs. The guys hidden in the plains, in that weird Mountain time zone, away from the lights and cameras. Oklahoma is, well, Oklahoma. It was up to Boise State to make this a classic. They overdid it.

Nobody who saw it will ever forget it, and most only saw the end, when the frantic calls, e-mails and text messages fanned out and alerted the nation late that night about the mad events unfolding.

But, they also won't forget that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't amount to much. It was just another nonchampionship bowl game, reduced to a meaningless exhibition by the system, one of the many matchups dictated by which school would bring the most fans. (Hence, overmatched Notre Dame being fed to the LSU Tigers in the Sugar Bowl.)

The Broncos won't be tested further, against Southern California or Michigan or Ohio State or Florida. They're won and done.

Because the way things are set up, and always have been set up, there's no room for Cinderella in college football.

Some proponents of leaving things as they are make a case for the post-bowl arguments about who's really No. 1, that that's what makes college football unique and fun. It's not an empty argument. It's a matter of degrees, though. Is this argument really fun? Is it fun to have to ask the question "what if" so many times?

USC asked it three years ago, Auburn two years ago, both unbeaten and arbitrarily left out.

Now that Boise State has done what it's done, it has the right to ask "what if." No way can that be fun for the Broncos or their supporters, who will always wonder what might have happened if they'd gotten a chance, if somehow they could have slugged through a tournament and found out for sure if they'd put together the best team in 2006.

The way George Mason had a chance against North Carolina and Connecticut and Florida, the way Villanova had against Georgetown, the way ...

Oops, I think I left one out: the way the Ravens had against the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders and New York Giants.

Sorry. No glass slippers allowed. You, kid, with that rock and slingshot, put it away and beat it.

You're not welcome here. Not in this sport.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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