23.12.12

CREATING A NEW TRADITION.

Northern Illinois University, proof of concept for the West Coast offense.
“We were on the cutting edge because we threw the ball all over the place and that kind of thing was unheard of at the time,” [1963 quarterback George] Bork said. “We were a really exciting team to watch.”

[Coach Howard] Fletcher was a bit of a cavalier, putting his players in full pads only once a week to avoid injuries. The rest of the week was spent on perfecting an offense just starting to be used by the San Francisco 49ers. It was Fletcher's own schematic recipe that took bits and pieces of spread offense philosophy being developed by other coaches.

“Nobody knew how to defense it,” [halfback Jack] Dean said. “We’d have five receivers out there and people couldn’t defend us with a zone because (Bork) would just pick it apart and they couldn’t defend us with man (defense) because they couldn’t keep up."
Just something to think about the next time the Packers line up with an empty backfield.

Something else that team of 50 years ago has in common with today's team: the right coalescence of determined people.
Bork occasionally thinks back to 1963 – long before NIU was a post-season regular – and sees a common thread between now and then. He looks over players who weren't known nationally before that season, but found a way to become something special.

“We had a lot of talented people," Bork said. "We weren’t going out there and getting a lot of big-name recruits, but we were just fortunate that we all landed at Northern at the same time.”
Never mind that the national nay-sayers are turning the Northern Illinois Orange Bowl bid into college football's E-T-T-S moment.
I want the Orange Bowl back.

Remember when it was always the best college football game of the year? Played in primetime on New Year’s night, it was the culmination of college football’s signature, most festive day. It always seemed to decide the national championship. And even when it didn’t, it always matched big brand, top ten-type teams. Nebraska, Oklahoma, Miami in their heydays…super intense and everything on the line. The perfect ending to the season.
Yes, but the sports pundits thought there was too much arguing about who the real national champion was, particularly if Ohio State or the University of Spoiled Children put on a good show in the Rose Bowl. Thus we have the Bowl Championship Series, with the New Year's Day games being the undercard for the main event, later in the week.
Now, the Orange Bowl is gone, finished, kaput. And with it, anything that could be called a big day for college football, one that’s responsible for the drama, memories and debate that carried the college gridiron to the national forefront, a true rival to the pros.
Yes, and once upon a time the National Football League title game was on the last Sunday of December, leaving New Year's Day, whatever day it was, unless it was a Sunday, to the collegians.  But now ...
Florida State will welcome Northern Illinois, a school that’s giving away tickets to students that are actually willing to go.
And several bus-loads will be going, and more than a few improvised intersession trips with the kids going six to a hotel room.
The game’s tie-in to the non-powerhouse ACC, just formally extended for 12 more years, has been akin to downsizing the Super Bowl to a consolation game between the last two NFL clubs to be eliminated from the playoffs. Not to entirely blame the conference or the Orange Bowl organizers – it’s ESPN that decided to offer up $55 million a year for the broadcast rights. The question is why, considering what a Mickey Mouse event he game has become.
Author Tom Van Riper looks too young to remember the Playoff Bowl, the game between East Division and West Division runners-up that Vince Lombardi famously characterized as hinky-dinky.  Be careful what you ask for.
Remember, a lot of the Orange Bowl excitement on New Year’s night came from the outcome of the other major bowls earlier in the day – those results sometimes determined whether both Orange Bowl teams, rather than just one, had a chance to win the national title (the ’84 Miami team may have gotten pumped up enough to beat Nebraska after watching two other New Years Day contenders, Texas and Illinois, lose in the Cotton Bowl and Rose Bowl, respectively). Now, with most of the eggs in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 basket, it’s hard to care about the others. Of the biggest traditional games, only the Rose Bowl consistently maintains double digits in the ratings department.

Just as it did in 2006, the BCS looks to have struck it lucky this year with Notre Dame reaching the title game against Alabama. But the expected strong ratings are the exception. Most of the time, the game is an anti-climactic bore. I want the Orange Bowl back.
Maybe the old system, without any attempts to establish a true national champion, was better. Or maybe the conference realignments will lead to four major conferences of sixteen teams divided into two divisions of eight, then a tournament either of the conference division winners, or start the seeding for the playoffs right there, with the standout teams from the mid-major conferences exiled to the Mineral Water Bowl ever after.

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