FROM THE CHEAP SEATS
It's UCLA-USC week here in Los Angeles and it's big news. There are lots of huge rivalries in college football, but none of them involve two teams of this caliber in the same city. The winners and losers will see each other all year, families, friends, and workplaces are all populated by grads of the schools and by non-grad fans of the schools. This year is very special since the Bruins are battling for a spot in the national championship game. UCLA has won this game seven years in a row, their longest streak in this series and that has rankle the Trojan fans, not to mention their players. A win here, depriving the Bruins of their chance to win the championship would make up for tremendous amounts of frustration. The pressure is on the Bruins and they have responded well to pressure the last two years. I think they'll find a way to win, but it'll be close.
I remember watching the UCLA-USC game when I was growing up back in New York. In the chill of late November, looking at the warm sunshine of Los Angeles was wonderful. Almost as wonderful as looking at the USC song girls and the UCLA cheerleaders. At half time the UCLA card section reminded me I was watching something special, as did the great Trojan marching band, The Spirit of Troy.
I mention this because this wonderful spectacle is no longer available to most kids back east. ABC-TV has decided, in their monopolistic vision, that "regionalizing" games is the way to go. So if you live in NY, you get to see the Florida-Florida St. game this week, a rivalry to be sure, but not involving one of the top three teams. If you live in the Midwest, you get to see Kansas St- Missouri, a key game for the polls, but not exactly the kind of rivalry that late November is about.
Why do this? Simple, by showing all these games regionally, ABC monopolizes the time slot, prevents any other network from grabbing one of the other games, and maximizes their ratings. For those fans with cable or DSS, they can actually buy the other games. Of course, it's impossible to watch that many games at once, but that's not their problem. They could've moved the K St-MO game to an earlier slot, but for some reason, Ohio St- Michigan seems to be the elite game.
Of course, most of the spectacle of college football is no longer seen on TV. The networks now show college football like it's pro football, analyzing over and over, showing the coaches pacing the sideline, showing fans with signs. If there is one shot of a cheerleader a half, it's a lot. And never actually doing a cheer. The card section is never shown, the bands are history, highlights are the order of the day at halftime. All the things that make college football special are being ignored. Even the coolest thing in all football, the sousaphone player dotting the letter "i" in the script "Ohio" spelled out by the Ohio State marching band, is rarely shown, and never in the context of the whole word being spelled. Maybe I'm old, but I miss this stuff.
It's week 12 in the NFL and none of the six division winners from last year is in first place. It was only last year when the Chiefs had the best record in the league. Now they are undisciplined, demoralized, and on their way to oblivion. Hard to believe this is a Marty Schottenheimer team, but reports seem to indicate that he's lost their attention, in which case it's time to either replace the players or replace the coach, and you know which way that goes.
There are a few NFL rivalries taking center stage this week. The Packers and Vikings meet in a key game for the Pack. A loss here would doom them to a wild card berth. More significantly, a win by the Vikes would indicate that they are clearly the team to beat in the NFC and are probably a notch or two above the rest of the conference.
The Raiders visit the Broncos this week, in an attempt to show that they're for real. They're not, and this should be number 11 in a row for Denver. Of course, if they were for real, they'd still probably lose at Denver.
Monday night the first place Dolphins visit the Patriots. The Pats are reeling, 5-5 and this is a must win game. They will, which will toss the NFL's most competitive division into further turmoil.
One matchup which is too new to be a rivalry, Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, is still very important. This is a lot like the Minnesota-Green Bay game, a win by the Jaguars would relegate the Steelers to a wild card team. Given the difficulty of their remaining schedule, even that might be a tight fit. This is too big a game for the Steelers to lose.
Going to Vegas? Take the points with Missouri (vs. Kan. St.), USC (vs. UCLA), and Kentucky (vs. Tennessee)
I figure a catcher who hits .328 with 32 HR and 111 RBI, whose team stays in the race until the last day of the season should get some serious MVP consideration, but Mike Piazza was named on only 5 ballots. Maybe they deducted credit for the Dodgers and Marlins records while he was there.
Other interesting things from the NL voting: some nitwit left Greg Vaughn off his ballot. The man hit 50 HR and drove in 119 runs for a team that won their division and wasn't one of the ten most valuable players in the league? Give me a break.
Moises Alou finished third, Craig Biggio finished fifth, and Jeff Bagwell received zero votes. Did I miss something?
One writer voted for Larry Walker as the fourth most valuable player in the league. Pretty high up for an outfielder who a)played only 130 games b) drove in 67 runs! C) played for the Rockies. He was the only person to put Walker on his ballot and had him ahead of teammate Vinnie Castilla, named on 18 ballots. Perhaps they sent him a copy of last year's stats by mistake. Or maybe Larry's mom got a ballot.
Barry Bonds' team was in the race until the last day of the season. He had a .609 slugging pct., a .438 OBA, hit 44 doubles, 7 triples, 37 HR, stole 28 bases, scored 120 runs, drove in 122 and won a Gold Glove. He finished 8th and was left off of 12 of the 32 ballots!
Moises Alou finished 3rd. His stats: .582 SP, .399 OBA, 34 doubles, 5 triples, 38 HR, 11 SB, 104 runs, 124 RBI, no Gold Glove. Those must have been two mighty important RBI.
You can still listen to the UCLA-USC game on real audio.
Visit the UCLA and USC big game previews.
*********Go to my National League MVP choices
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