Some people think the Sugar Bowl football game at 2 p.m. on New Year's Day, sending Alabama against Arkansas, is important because it might decide the national college football championship.
It's important because it marks the last time we will see the likes of Mike Burlingame on the gridiron.
After the Sugar Bowl, Mike Burlingame will belong to the ages. In the same campaign that saw O. J. Simpson hang'em up, football also loses Mike Burlingame. The game will not be the same.
Mike Burlingame, 22, of Norman, Okla., is a 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior who starts at center for the University of Arkansas football team. He has started 21 games and the Razorbacks have lost none of them, perfection spoiled by one tie.
Because of a knee injury, Burlingame missed five games near the end of this season. It was during his absence that Arkansas suffered its only loss in 11 games. Now he is back and ready to go against the undefeated, ambitious Alabama team that thinks a victory over Arkansas can provide a national championship.
"They are a fantastic team," Burlingame said of the Tide, which led the nation in defense against scoring, allowing only seven touchdowns and an average of 5.2 points a game. Eleven opponents averaged only 100 yards total offense a game against Bear Bryant's quick, aggressive defenders.
Meanwhile, Burlingame's offensive line was good enough this year to help Arkansas runners and throwers score 25 points a game. Only mediocre on the ground (fifth best in the Southwest Conference), Arkansas uses quarterback Kevin Scanlon's astonishing accuracy (he has completed 66.2 percent of his passes) to move quickly in the air.
Scanlon even has said Arkansas should be the national champion if it beats Alabama. The Tide is currently No. 1 in the United Press International poll of coaches, No. 2 in the Associated Press poll of sportswriters and sportscasters. Arkansas is sixth in UPI, seventh in AP.
"I hope we can run the ball against Alabama, because that's going to be important," Burlingame said. "We'll find out pretty soon, won't we?"
It can be reported, today, however, that not only is Mike's knee better, Our Hero is also recovering well from his Heisman Trophy disappointment.
He didn't win the Heisman this season, although before the first game he announced that the old trophy was his goal in his last go-round.
"I figured it was about time for an offensive lineman to win it," he said. "Everyone elso on our line had a goal, so I needed one, too. Phillip Moon wants to be governor, George Stewart wants to be a quarterback, Chuck Herman wants to play on the right side of the line in the pros (he's always been a left guard) and Greg Kolenda wants to get married."
If Pat Paulsen can run for president, Mike Burlingame figured he could campaign for the Heisman.
"I kicked off my campaign with a 'Bring the Heisman to Fayetteville Party,'" Mike said.
The Heisman had been on his mind for a long time.
"Oh, I've always thought about it, ever since I was in the fourth grade," Burlingame said. "Even then I was a center but I wanted to be a receiver or a quarterback eventually. I used to sleep in the same position as that guy on the Wheaties box. You know: arms outstretched, ready to catch a pass."
With glamorous running backs such as Billy Sims of Oklahoma and Charles White of Southern California figuring to attract more attention than a stumpy center in Arkansas (no matter how wonderful Mike was), Burlingame knew his campaign for the Heisman needed extraordinary help.
So he printed up 500 bumper stickers.
"Hold for Heisman. 'Game' No. 50," the bumper stickers said. They were all over Fayetteville.
Burlingame said his campaign drew coast-to-coast attention.
"It was mentioned in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., paper and Gary Stiggers' cousin from Portland, Ore., saw a story about it in his paper," Mike said in midseason, not long before announcing that the media crush was so heavy he had decided to "talk only to Heisman voters."
Although Arkansas was undefeated before Burlingame was hurt, he saw that Sims and White seemed to be pulling away from him in the race for the Heisman.
"It seems the selection committee has gotten off the track," he said. "John Heisman was a center, but they've never picked a center as the winner of his trophy. If he were around today, he'd be very disillusioned . . . Plus, I've never had a downfield fumble."
It was Burlingame's hope that the running backs would split up the votes.
"I should get all the center votes," he said. "I have some pretty good selling points. I've never been offsides. We've run to my side on every play. I try not to think too much about winning the Heisman, but it's always in the back of my mind. I try to block on every play like it will be the block that will win the Heisman. I touch or am around the ball a lot more than any back."
Running backs are overrated, anyway, Our Hero said.
"Anyone can run with the ball. You can give a football to a 2-year-old kid and he can run with it. But can he snap it?"
As many know, Charles White won the Heisman. In his acceptance speech, White did not mention Mike Burlingame, although Arkansas sources said Burlingame received at least two first-place votes ("I can't tell you who, because the Heisman people might never let them vote again," said Arkansas publicity man Rick Schaffer).
Burlingame accepted defeat gracefully.
"We had 'An Almost Heisman Party,'" he said.