Run and Shoot: When College Football Lost Its Cool

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When College Football Lost Its Cool

by Eric Sorenson

http://www.sportsline.com/collegefootball/story/11101004

In this fad-a-minute world, everything will eventually lose its "coolness" edge. Dylan went electric. Starsky and Hutch became a spoof. Miami Vice transitioned into a fashion punchline.

Sadly, even college football has its own level of lost cool as well.

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(Barry Sanders had an incredible senior year in 1988, rushing for nearly 3,000 yards if you include his bowl game romp against Wyoming. Though no one will get close to breaking his single season mark, the 1,000 yard club is easier than ever for a running back to attain.)

Don't get me wrong, the spectacle and popularity of college football is great. It's never been bigger, better or had more exposure. In this day and age, we can live like kings gorging on all the college football our senses could possibly take. We're like the dog with the ravenous appetite whose owner has gone to work and accidentally left the dog's 40-pound food bag open and on the floor.

But there are certain intangibles that made college football special back in the day, depending on how far your "back in the day" goes. Things that made it much more easily distinguishable from the staid, homogenized pro game. Certain flavors of the game that are gone and they really made the game cool.

Well here are a few things that I certainly miss that made college football seem so cool. Characteristics that the game will probably never recapture in the same way.

- AFFORDABLE TICKETS.
This one is obvious. You didn't have to own your own Fortune 500 company to get a seat between the 20s at a college football game. Now, the NFL fad of a "personal seat license" is beginning to creep further into the sport like an ominous shadow. Like those B-grade monster movies, if you listen closely you can hear the people screaming as it approaches.

- TEAR AWAY JERSEYS.
Nothing beats the mental images of a Jeff Kinney with the entire front of his jersey in an Oklahoma Linebacker's hands, or a Major Ogilvie wearing a "half-shirt" cutoff in the Iron Bowl or an Earl Campbell rumbling with his shoulder pad flapping with every step because his sleeve was torn off on the previous run. It just made football players look like gladiators.

JeffKinney.jpg
(Nebraska's Jeff Kinney in the landmark 1971 Game of the Century win over Oklahoma, 35-31. Kinney had his tear-away jersey torn to pieces in this game. Those types of jerseys are no longer allowed in college football.)

- TRUE NATIONAL TV.
Before the CFA came along and, much to the delight of the college football nation, busted the televising of the game wide open, it really meant something to be on "national TV." You were REALLY on the big stage because ABC was the only network showing games. (Don’t get me wrong, I love today's TV free-for-all. Just making a point here.)

- CONFERENCES WHERE EVERYBODY PLAYED EVERYBODY.
This one's pretty self-explanatory. Round-robin conference schedules rule, though rare they are nowadays. Today's 12-to-14 team conferences with their championship rematches just aren't cool. (Then again, neither were the days of the SEC playing only six conference games either. So, touche'.)

- THE WISHBONE.
Sure there's still Georgia Tech, the Air Force flexbone and other variations, but it's not like watching the meat-grinder offenses of the 70s that could just run over you while nearly announcing what they were going to do on each play. Give me that bruising fullback and the mercurial slotbacks. Thomas Lott, Steadman Shealy, Rick Leach, Jack Mildren, J.C. Watts, these were the greatest athletes to play the quarterback position. Okay, except for Vince Young.

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(Oklahoma's Thomas Lott, here in action vs. Ohio State in 1978, was one of the best in a long line of great wishbone quarterbacks under Barry Switzer.)

- COACHES THAT LASTED LONGER THAN FOUR SEASONS.
It's all about money now. Since Ron Prince didn't win double-digit games in his first three years, he's been wedged out of the job at Kansas State. Just imagine if K-State administrators had done the same with Bill Snyder? He didn't get to double-digits until his seventh year on the job. Without a little faith and patience, KSU would've never garnered a single mention in the national picture even today. Where has that philosophy gone?

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(Bill Snyder, who gets my vote for the Coach of the Century, only won 13 games in his first three years at Kansas State. Last week, current K-State coach Ron Prince resigned under pressure after just three years. Had Snyder come around these days, he never would've been given the chance to orchestrate the biggest program turnaround in college football history.)

- COACHES THAT WEREN'T YOUR SAME AGE.
Coaches were always the old crotchety rough-and-tumble type that didn't give a damn if his players puked in practice. Hell, they'd set trash cans up at both ends of the field for just such actions. And if you were injured he'd just tell you to rub dirt on it, tape it up and get back in there. Now, most coaches would rather you take a pilates class.

- ASTRO-TURF.
Let me get this out of the way first, no, I don't miss the numerous injuries or the concrete-hardness of it. But do you remember how cool it looked when its popularity first took root in college football? Or how it looks in old highlights? And games in the rain that had wicked-huge puddles gather along the sidelines? Sure, give me the sod and the mud and the grass stains. But sometimes it's pretty freakin' cool to see the old turf. Classic.

- WHEN MARCHING BANDS SUPPLIED THE MUSIC.
Last week, at the Alabama-LSU game, the Golden Band from Tigerland played every so often, sure. But truth be told, they were shiftless and sitting on their hands most of the game while piped-in music blared through the loudspeakers. Granted, I don't want to hear “Boomer Sooner” 62 times in a three-hour game (yes, it's happened), but nor do I want to hear some weak rap song or the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" before every kickoff while the band sits idle in the stands.

- KEITH JACKSON.
Why am I always jonesing for those Gatorade commercials that use him as the spokesman?

- WHEN TV ANNOUNCERS WORE GOLD BLAZERS.
These blazers led to one of the seminal lines from Spicoli on Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "Where'd you get that jacket?" Today, we get Pam Ward wearing a blouse while announcing a game. Eck!

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(The legendary Bill Flemming, a longtime staple in college football broadcasting, sports one of ABC's old golden blazers while reporting from the sidelines at the 1977 Alabama-Nebraska game.)

- OFFENSIVE LINEMEN WER, AT THE MOST, 265 POUNDS AND GENERALLY JUST PLAYED THE POSITION BECAUSE THEY WERE MEAN AS HELL.
Now they're all 325 pounds, laden with a spare tire over their belts and full of synthetics.

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(It could be argued that the image and size of the modern offensive lineman changed when steroid freak Tony Mandarich became a huge hit at Michigan State, leading to his being a No. 1 draft choice and eventual NFL bust. Since then, the average size of offensive linemen has ballooned to well over 320 pounds.)

- FIELD GOALS OFF A TEE.
Long gone are the days of the kickers in the Southwest Conference who traded off 60+ yard field goals with the help of a two-inch placement tee.

- FOR THAT MATTER, THE SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE.
Can't imagine a lot of people agree with me here, but I liked the all Texas conference. Nowhere else in major college history do we have a conference made up of entirely in-state rivals. (Well, at least the last four years of the SWC were that way.)

- BOWL GAMES WERE TRUE REWARDS.
'Nuf said.

- WHEN THE NCAA WAS BASED IN SHAWNEE MISSION, KANSAS.
It just has a more organic and down-to-Earth feel than its new corporate headquarters in Indianapolis. Maybe that's just me.

- GREAT INTERSECTIONAL MATCHUPS TO START THE SEASON.
Admittedly, this year we've got a couple more than in recent years, but it seems like the cross-country battles between major powers has become as regular as legitimate evidence of Bigfoot. Money, the BCS, money, television contracts, money, larger conferences, money and bowl eligibility have put a serious bite into interesting non-conference games. That and the fact that easier schedules also mean more Ws and more chances for your fans to chant their conference name because they have seven teams in the Top 25.

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(The USC-Alabama game from 1978 was one of the great college football inter-sectional matchups ever. But getting teams like these two to play a pre-conference game like this now is nearly impossible. And by they way, this game also proved why USC deserved the national title over Alabama as both teams ended the season with one loss, but the Trojans beat Bama in Birmingham 24-14 earlier that season.)

- THE THOUSAND YARD CLUB.
Running backs going over the 1,000-yard barrier doesn't have quite the ring to it when you consider that now there are 12-to-14 game schedules out there. Plus, the NCAA recently decided that bowl game stats should count toward the season stats, unlike prior seasons where they didn't. That's why Barry Sanders' 2,628-yard season in 1988 will always be all the more impressive when you consider his 288 yards vs. Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl didn't count.

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