The idea today is to say college football is more fun than the pro game. The thought came up the other night when the Giffer said he'd been talking mad because the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders were getting all the exposure (blush) on television and why didn't TV give credit to other cheerleaders? Howard, the Raiderettes are upset, the Giffer said. And Howard did the right thing. He shut up for once.
If the National Football League had a sense of decorum, it would send all those plastic cheerleaders back to the secretarial pool or the swimming pool or - surely this is true, because the NFL doesn't miss a trick - back to their studies in nuclear physics. Cheerleaders, cheerleaders. These girls are pomposity on the hoof.
The NFL has its make-believe cheerleaders only because college football has real cheerleaders who produce real laughs and cry real tears. For some reason, the sight of the Raiderettes - poor, unnoticed things in their short skirts and silky blouses - reminded at least one TV viewer of a night editor he once knew on a small newspaper in central Illinois.
The night editor was the kind of guy who would wear a tweed tie to work. One of those, Winner of a Nieman Fellowship, which is a big deal in journalism, he spent a year studying at Harvard University. Back on the job, he made certain everyone saw the new piece of jewelry hanging on his tie.
"My Harvard key," he said.
The state editor was not impressed. Only the price of soybeans impressed the state editor. He was not impressed by a night editor who wore jewelry on his tie.
"So what?" the state said. "On my garage, I got a Yale lock.
No matter how often the NFL reminds us of its greatness, the world's Yale-lock lovers will stay with the college game. What college football gives the paying customer is a day of fun, a reminder that he once was young and full of imperfections unnoticed. It's a day in the sun on campus. The leaves are gold and yellow and everyone is smiling, because it's a game, not a war, and they understand the difference.
Besides, it's a better game to watch.
Not a better game technically.
No college passer can match the majesty of aKen Stabler, and it would be silly to put any college runner in the same sentence with O.J. Simpson.
But neither do the pros play with the innocent enthusiasm and excitement of the thousands of college athletes whose desire and competitiveness make it meaningless that most of them lack the skills necessary to become professionals.
Competitive sport eliminates the weak and unskilled at every level. By the time they reach the NFL, football players are amazing specimens with astonishing skills. To see them at their best is to see nature work a miracle. While the college players are much more than stumbling bums - for they have succeeded in climbing the competitive ladder to the next-to-last rung - they come with imperfections.
And that is the beauty of the college game. In the NFL, everyone is so equal and everyone knows so well the intent of the enemy - the same formations, the same techniques, strategies - that the game becomes dull, a contest of conservatism. Let the other guy lose, then I'll win.
Not in college. The game is unpredictable. The major colleges have averaged more than 625 yards total offense a game for a decade now (the Redskins and opponents average 574 yards last season). If you don't see the wing-T, it may be the wishbone. If not the veer, the elephant-I.
Lee Corso, the Indiana coach, called one formation the elephant-I because he ran it with a 290-pound tackle in the fullback spot. And when's the last time George Allen did that?