Quick, son, the Valium. I think they're about to do it to us 'Bama boys again, the way they did it to us last year, remember? We were ranked No. 2 and went to the Sugar Bowl to play Penn State, which was ranked No. 1. Okay, so when No. 2 beats No. 1. where does that leave us in the final UPI poll? No. 2, where else? Behind Southern California.

It's all a plot, you know. A dam-yankee conspiracy. This time last season, the UPI board of coaches conspired to drive your old man to the medicine chest. Now it looks like the AP sportswriters are up to their old tricks.

Sure, your mother says don't pay any attention to me. She hears me burning up the long-distance lines to my friends in Alabama and claims we're all suffering from a seasonal derangement. She's even looked it up in some shrink journal, where they've got it classified.

Tuscaloosa Paranoia, aka Post-Appomatox Malaise: a midwinter depression that afflicts zealots who follow the fortunes of the University of Alabama football team, in which the victims imagine that sinister elements are depriving them of an equal opportunity to assert their claim to athletic preeminence.

Imaginary, my Bear's foot. He may be able to walk on water, but when it comes to whose wire service pools, it's Gettysburg all over again. No matter what we do on the field, there's no way our side can come out on top in both polls.

You don't believe me do you? You are like your mother: you want hard evidence, a smoking gun. Okay, what about those eight voters in the final AP poll who suddenly decided not even to rank 'Bama among the top three teams in the country? So Ohio State ends up with more second-and third-place votes and moved us out of the No. 1 spot. I suppose you'll tell me that's something that just happens, like the gas shortage. No conspiracy. Just a matter of our having to lower our expectations.

Oh, yeah. And now NBC -- hear me out, son, they're in it up to their peacock's tailfeather -- they come off touting the Rose Bowl, which is their show, as "the battle for the national championship." I mean, explain, if you can: How can we be No. 1 for the last half of the season, end up 11-0, then get dropped to No. 2 in the final week?

What's that? Because the AP pollsters claim Ohio State played a tougher schedule? Come off it, son. You mean, like awesome Northwestern? Point-a-minute Illinois? Mighty 8-and-4 Michigan? And what about Southern California's schedule, its claim to be No. 1 if it beats OSU? Well, now there was that game with Stanford. Okay, let me concede -- the Bear did play some dogs along the way. But then again, none of the dogs tied him, did they?

Not that any of that sweet logic will impress the damyankee wire service polls. Not a whit. They're the last vestige of punitive Reconstruction, keeping us in our place -- No. 2, if we're lucky. The way it runs now -- in fact, ever since your old man wore a freshman beanie at Tuscaloosa -- if there's any execuse those Easterners, Midwesterners and Far Westerners can latch onto to beat us out of No. 1, by God and the Bear, they'll use it.

Take that 1966 season. Tell me, son, how can a team open the season tanked No. 1, go 11-0, then end up No. 3, in both polls? It's easy, if you're located south of Richmond.

Back then, I used bicarbonate of soda, not Valium. But you know something? When Kenny Stabler put Nebraska away, 34-7, in the Sugar Bowl, I actually lost my head and thought we had a lock on the top rating. What I had forgotten is the first rule in wire service polling -- namely, that before any Southern team can end a season voted No. 1, every ball club in the Midwest and Far West has to lose at least one game. That's lose, not tie. And that year, you see, Notre Dame had looked real impressive falling on the ball, running out the clock, and playing for a 10-10 tie against Michigan State.

Naturally, they ended up at 9-0-1, with the title and I ended up with my bicarb, on the rocks.

Luck o' the Irish, your mother told me -- but it didn't necessarily mean anybody was plotting against us. A lot she knows. She said the same thing two years ago. Remember the '77 season? Going into the bowls. Texas was ranked No. 1, with Oklahoma second. 'Bama third, and Note Dame -- which had lost a game to Ole Miss -- buried in fifth.

Now hear this: On New Year's Day, (1) Texas loses; (2) Oklahoma loses; and (3) 'Bama beats Ohio State, 35-6. Now the general wire service rule -- or at least up to that time -- had been that as teams were beaten, the teams behind them moved up, in order. So with No. 1 and No. 2 beaten, that made Alabama the national champion, right? Wrong. The way AP and UPI figured it that season, the team that beat No. 1 should be No. 1. And Notre Dame was the team that had whipped Texas in the Cotton. From No. 5 to the top, in one lucky Irish jump.

Okay, Well, not really so okay, but what could we do about it except wait 'till next year? That was last season, son, and the team that beat No. 1 then was 'Bama, not the Irish. So what did UPI do? The consistent thing, of course. They moved Southern California up from No. 3 and awarded it the title.

Oh, they'll stop at nothing, son, absolutely nothing. But don't misunderstand. Your father and his paranoid friends don't mind losing fair and square. Like, if Arkansas beats Bear's boys this coming Tuesday -- and they're 10-and-1 and tough no matter what the NBC peacock says -- well, then forget it. No complaints. You didn't hear me complaining back in '73, when Notre Dame beat us, 24-23, and won the national championship, did you?

True, your mother had to hide any sharp instruments around the house for a month. But I didn't begrudge the Irish a thing. They hadn't ended up No. 1 in any popularity contest, some damyankee poll where the voters make up the rules to hype their favorite conference, section or network bowl game. They won it on the field, where championships are supported to be won and lost.

One of these days, maybe we'll come to that -- the Division 1 NCAA national title settled in a playoff. But until then, if you're a 'Bama or Florida State fan -- even if your team is 12-0 when the sun rises on Jan. 2- keep a supply of valium handy.

Unless . . . listen, son, just because it didn't work the first time doesn't mean it's a bad idea. I mean, suppose our good ol' boy sportswriters and coaches said to hell with it, seceded from the national wire service polls, and set up one of their own?