Searching for nostalgia; college football should go back to old days

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Now, it is true, I do have a bit of a nostalgia problem. For instance, I desperately miss watching baseball and football games at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, though, being honest, I know the place was a dump. Your shoes would stick to the ground. Your view was always blocked by a metal beam. You were always freezing in that stadium, even in the middle of July.

I miss the place every single day. It is how I grew up.

More: I miss playing those handheld football games of the 1970s -- Mattel Electronic Football, Coleco Electric Quarterback. Yes, now computer football games are so realistic that you have to dodge Plaxico Burress' bullets, but I long for the days when players were represented by little red lines of light, the quarterback was the brightest light, and touchdowns were marked by the shrill sounds of the Charge Fanfare*. Again, it's how I grew up.

*Because we are in the business of giving you information you really don't want, I will tell you that the Charge Fanfare -- Duh-duh-duh-DUT-duih-DUH -- was written by Tommy "The Toe" Walker, an old drum major at USC who, according to Bruce Anderson's excellent piece in Sports Illustrated 18 years ago, used to sit with the band in the stands. Then, when the time was right, he would tear off his jacket in the middle of games and run on the field to kick extra points and field goals. After World War II, Walker returned to his school, wrote his six-note fanfare, and USC fans would shout "Charge!" at the end of it. Tommy The Toe later went on to direct Super Bowl halftime shows and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for three Olympics.

Yes, I am pretty much nostalgic for everything from my childhood, no matter how inane -- the Superstars competition, pong, the voice of John Facenda narrating NFL Films, baseball card gum, Valerie Bertinelli, Howard Cosell's halftime highlights, the original Rock 'em, Sock 'em Robots where the blue robot's neck would pop up if anyone sneezed within a five-mile radius. And much, much more. So it only fits the pattern that I find myself nostalgic these days for college football and the way things used to be.

I realize that everyone and Obama is fighting for a college football playoffs now, and I was on that bandwagon for a long, long time. Every year, I would write a column about the absurdity of the college system, and it would get easier all the time because they would inevitably change the system every year to make it worse.

Now, they have the worst of all abbreviations, the BCS -- which stands for Bowl Championship Series even though the one thing the system is definitely not is a bowl championship series. It is a convoluted and utterly inexplicable system that this year chose one-loss Florida and Oklahoma to play for a championship, chose those two over Texas, USC, Texas Tech, Utah, Boise State and Penn State for reasons that are so baffling you need Batman and Robin from the old TV Show to figure them out*.

*From the actual show: The Riddler asks: "How do you make a dishonest shortcake?" Robin says, "I got it Batman, Lie-berry." Batman says, "Right Robin, Lie-berry, clearly a corrupted version of the word, 'library!'" And Robin says, "Holy library books, Batman, does this mean ..." And Batman says, "That's right Robin. It means Oklahoma is going to the BCS Championship Game over Texas."

The BCS system is baffling as ever this year, of course. Florida is going over one-loss Alabama because the Gators beat Alabama. But Oklahoma is going over one-loss Texas even though Texas beat Oklahoma. One-loss USC isn't going because it lost at good-but-not-great Oregon State, but Florida is going even though it did lose to a good-but-not-great Mississippi (at home). Penn State isn't going because it lost at Iowa, Texas Tech isn't going even though its only loss was at No. 1 Oklahoma (a blowout, true, but it's still the highest-ranked loss), Texas isn't going even though its only loss was on the last play at Texas Tech, and Utah isn't going even though it didn't lose at all. Yes. Riddle me this, Batman.

So, my thought, like many people, has always been that college football needs a playoff because that's how we settle these things in all of our sports. We are a playoff nation, and even though we appreciate the flaws in the playoff system -- even though certain 10-6 NFL teams make the playoffs and certain ones don't for obscure tiebreaker reasons, even though certain divisions are easier to win than others, and so on -- we accept these quirks because playoffs are who we are as Americans. We want a champion, and playoffs give us what we want. I must say I never had the slightest sympathy for the most common anti-playoff arguments -- that playoffs would corrupt the regular season (please -- how could the season be more corrupted?), or that it would put more pressure on the student-athletes (come on, since when do any of the schools making tens of millions at this game care about pressure on the student-athlete) or that a playoff is somehow unworkable (college football has survived its own bizarre system for decades -- thrived even -- and you're telling me that a playoff is unworkable?).

But this year, for the first time, I find myself working away from a playoff, and here's why: College football for about 100 years now has been about chaos. That's why the BCS doesn't work, will never work, can't work. It doesn't matter how many computers you use -- you can't fairly take more than 100 teams, have them play their own schedules in a short season and then choose two of them to play in a championship game. The math doesn't play.

So, yes, you can try to bring a little more order to the chaos with an eight-team playoff, a 16-team playoff, whatever your particular system is ... that might work. But the older I get the more I suspect that order isn't really what college football is about. What's wrong with a little chaos? College football is about wild emotions and rivalries and regional pride and arguments that go on forever and are never resolved.

We will never know who should have won the 1954 national championship, or how Alabama and Notre Dame and Arkansas matched up in '77, or if Georgia Tech would have beaten Colorado in 1990. We will never know, and you know what? That's not a terrible thing. In many ways, that fits what college football is all about. The season is so short and each game is such an event and the passions are so fevered, I don't think it's a bad thing that every Arkansas fan believes that the Razorbacks were the best team in the land in 1977.

And so ... I find myself wanting to go back. Yes, it's nostalgia. But I want to go back to those days before the BCS inflicted its phony finish on the nation. I want to go back to those days before we became so smart and decided we could find the best teams based on complicated formulas and impenetrable computer programs. I want to go back to the time when bowl scouts with their Century 21 jackets showed up at games, to the time when the Big Ten and Pac-10 always played in the Rose Bowl, to the time when the biggest bowl games were all played on New Year's Day, to the time when fans in three or four cities all wore "National Championship" T-shirts.

I want to go back to the time when there was no official national champion -- because, realistically, there is no official champion now. Let's quit trying to gift wrap the season. Let's go back to those days when bowl games were fun and everyone watched and chose their own champion. The sportswriters chose one. The coaches chose one. Different computer programs chose one. And fans chose their own. Yes, everybody complained. Yes, it was messy. But, it's messy now, too.

And that's the point. College football is going to be messy no matter what you do -- it's just the nature of the game. And I think we're making a mistake trying to clean it up. We should embrace the mess. College football is like a good rack of barbecued ribs. Sure, you can try to eat the ribs with a knife and fork and do your best not to get any sauce on your shirt and pretend that you are eating filet mignon. But what's the point in that? I say embrace the mess. I say that the answer is to put on a bib and dig in.