For a number of years, I have been looking for a college football program to call my own. I had rejected the game for, oh, the past couple of decades or so because, as I have stated time and again to moans and groans from Sports Nation, college football has absolutely nothing to do with college.
Still, in an effort to recapture the joy of my youth -- for instance, I recently called my fourth-grade teacher and asked her to test me again on multiplication tables -- I wanted to feel the thrill and excitement of Saturday afternoons on the gridiron.
I have found my team:
The University of Tennessee.
Phillip Fulmer, head coach since 1992, has fostered a program that pursues excellence on and off the field. Actually, let me amend that: It pursues excellence on the field and pursues the best legal representation money can buy off the field.
I love the spirit of the Volunteers, because these aren't simply student-athletes who have to go to class and practice every day; these are student-athletes who have to go to class, practice and court every day.
Over the last year and a half, according to USA Today, Tennessee football players have been in at least 20 incidents involving shoplifting, assault, gun charges, motor vehicle citations, disturbing the peace and failing a drug test. Eight Tennessee players have been arrested since the end of last season.
All Tennessee players are given a "Think Card" -- a series of questions designed to help them think through difficult situations -- that fits in their wallet. The problem is, many Tennessee players don't carry a wallet; they carry a money clip.
Here is your typical Tennessee player's daily routine:
9:55 a.m.: Call friend and ask him to go to 10 o'clock typing class to take notes for you.
12 p.m.: Lunch.
1:15: Punch somebody off-campus.
1:35: Commit some garden- variety, misdemeanor-type crime.
2:05: Call friend to post bail for you.
2:10: Call Coach Fulmer to let him know you might be running late for practice.
Despite countless brushes with the law, Tennessee's student-athletes are ranked No. 3 in the AP football poll.
(NCAA devotees love to use the term "student-athlete," then forget that "student" actually comes first. That means, theoretically, you attend class before you attend practice. Similarly, when I was in my heyday at Maryland, I was a "student-drinker" -- first I carried books by day, then beers by night. Trust me, I didn't earn a 2.88 GPA by tapping kegs before noon.)
(Incidentally, let me congratulate the fine student-athletes at USC as the school pursues another national title led by Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart. Leinart needs only two credits to earn his sociology degree, so he is taking just one course this year -- ballroom dancing. If I were making this up, I would admit it, but I'm not, so I wish Leinart and the Trojans the best of luck on both the football field and the dance floor!)
(And while I'm in a genial mood, kudos to the ACC, which has secured agreements to allow at least eight of its 12 football teams to play in bowl games if they qualify, starting in 2006. The other four ACC schools would advance to the NHL playoffs.)
I'm rooting for the Volunteers because they have a harder road to victory. You think it's easy working the blocking sled with a subpoena in your back pocket? Tennessee players have to be in shape -- in their backpacks, they carry a playbook, a textbook and a lawbook.
Hey, you try winning a national championship when half your defense is in county lockup any given Tuesday. And, believe you me, the Volunteers are capable of winning the BCS title; with any luck, most of Tennessee's best linemen will be paroled in time for the SEC season.
Anyway, I expect Tennessee to begin its 13-0 campaign Saturday by thrashing UAB, provided jury selection is over by halftime.
Ask The Slouch
Q. In the remake of "The Bad News Bears," is there ever a clear explanation as to why Kelly Leak's power numbers are down compared with the original film? (Michael Cozzi; Naperville, Ill.)
A. There's a buck and a quarter, no waiting.
Q. Every year, people say the BCS formula should be changed. Wouldn't it be enough just to keep Oklahoma out of the title game? (Ian Johns; Mount Holly, N.J.)
A. Step right up to the cash window, sir.
Q. Is it my imagination, or is Barry Bonds looking more and more like Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now"? (Dave Redic; Chester Township, Ohio)
A. That took all of 10 seconds for you to earn 10 bits.
Q. If a WNBA ticket scalper falls in the parking lot, does he make a sound? (Erik Tuininga; Potomac Falls)
A. Pay the man, Shirley (unless you high-tailed it out of town during my vacation).
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