The rogue knew a saucy secret about the saint seated next to him, and couldn't wait to go public. With Barry Switzer and Joe Paterno, it's never kiss and tell. Just tell.

These are the coaches whose teams are battling tonight in a game that will come as close to deciding a national champion as college football need get. In one of their private moments together this week, something Paterno said struck the Oklahoma coach as astonishing.

Paterno mentioned cheerleaders.

He said they caught his eye.

Some of us would have been surprised, and worried, if Paterno had said an alluring coed didn't get his attention. He married one, after all, when he was an obscure assistant at Penn State in the early '60s.

Switzer was giddy at the revelation and threw his arm around the embarrassed Paterno's shoulders as he repeated the conversation.

"I can't believe Joe Paterno watches cheerleaders . . . " said Switzer. His voice got higher and more excited: "Joe's got a weakness!"

Golly gee.

That was just part of the stunning news during their final news conference before the Orange Bowl. This was the other bulletin, and perhaps you'd better slump into a chair and grab it tight before reading on.

Ready?

Barry's got a mind.

And you fretted that hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is journalism might have died when Howard Cosell and ABC got divorced.

Image and reality rassled as Paterno and Switzer shared the attention in an alleged college-oriented setting that seems well on its way to becoming as gaudy as anything the NFL concocts.

Close to a dozen television cameras were trained on the two coaches as they opened with gushy praise about each other and their teams; some cameras, and notebooks, had snapped shut by the time the fun began.

You can play, too. To join in, guess who said the following: "I'm against (a national championship playoff, as envisioned presently). We're already exploiting players, and if we play 14 or 15 or 16 games what do they get?

"It would be more practice time during finals. No more Christmas (break). That's in addition to lots of inequities (in selecting the teams that would be involved in the tournament)."

To whom does that opinion belong: the esteemed educator, Paterno, or Bad Barry, who supposedly knows just four letters of the alphabet, X and O and W and L.

Wrong.

It was Switzer.

The news conference Tuesday was significant because it caused some listeners who had arrived with preconceived notions about the coaches to reevaluate their positions. Pegs that once fit neatly into place popped free.

Even Paterno and Switzer may have left a bit wiser about each other, if they weren't preoccupied with practice. In the obvious ways, they are as unalike as apples and oranges; in the ways that lifted them to the pinnacle of their profession, they seem quite alike: bright and appealing -- and driven.

Just guessing, but I imagine Paterno is pushing for a college playoff, in part, because he was denied three national championships by pollsters.

Still guessing, I imagine Paterno was being very honest when, during that off-the-record session years ago, he said he did not want to leave the game "to the likes of Barry Switzer and Jackie Sherrill."

Switzer assumed control of, and won two national championships with, a team convicted of cheating by the NCAA. Call him an appealing opportunist in a section of the country almost reknowned for football banditry.

The Oklahoma coach gets livid when his players are seen as rebels who wouldn't know a classroom from a tool shed, who are prepping not for a well-rounded and civil life but for the Los Angeles Raiders.

Meanwhile, Penn State's players are portrayed as soft-spoken humanitarians who devour Chaucer at halftime. If a fellow cannot make it at linebacker under Paterno, he's at least a potential candidate for some sort of Nobel honor.

"Tell me what 'loose' means," Switzer snapped angrily when somebody mentioned his players seemed so. He offered his definition: "If it means a player who can say and do what he wants without some coach stepping on his toe. We want a player to have fun and be himself."

He said Penn State was different, then added:

"But our players'll hit you right in the mouth and hit you hard for 60 minutes. Joe's players are the same; all they do is project a different image."

Switzer felt compelled to admit that he does try to button loose tongues from his "big ol' puppies who haven't grown up yet."

Paterno followed by admitting that he had a player who never could be totally muzzled: linebacker Chet Parlavecchio.

So it went.

Switzer made a crack about Penn State's black high-tops being a ploy to disguise speed, so Paterno said Penn State would wear red shoes. And Switzer countered: "You'll allow (television) cameras in the locker room, too." Evidently, Switzer will.

Wouldn't it be a gas to watch these guys play monopoly? Different strategy, same passion.

The Nittany Lions' quarterback could not be successful in Oklahoma's offense and the Sooners' quarterback probably would be a wide receiver at Penn State.

Both teams are remarkably young. Only six of Penn State's 115 players will use up their eligibility this season; Oklahoma's gifted quarterback, Jamelle Holieway, is a freshman.

This suggests we just might meet here again next year. Same time, same stakes. Don't go lovey-dovey on us, guys.