The new season is upon us. What memorable moments it will bring depends in part on your locale and state of mind. If you are up in section 103, row K, seat 14 in the dead of November, for instance, you might get to wondering just before that last sip of lukewarm coffee whether frostbite always requires amputation. But if you have just been turned upside down on the 34-yard line and some linebacker two ax handles wide has put his foot where your ear ought to be, your thoughts may drift to such whimsical subjects as, say, survival.
But in the great annual free-for-all of major-college football there is always one topic that commands the rapt attention of everyone concerned: Who is No. 1? The fact that man has not yet devised a civilized way to determine an official national champion should not be cause for despair. To the contrary, it is a source of strange delight. Either way, at this point in time, as they once said, it might be edifying for both the fans and the young men suiting up for battle to reflect on the words of a departed warrior.
'The public...demands certainties," H. L. Mencken once observed. "It must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is true and that is false. But there are no certainties."
Mencken did not see Ara Parseghian's crusaders seek truth in the Sugar Bowl last season. Nor did he hear the Notre Dame rabble declare, definitely and more than a bit raucously, that "We're No. 1!" But in his wise and wily way, old H. L. neatly summed up what is altogether unique and perversely captivating about a sport that produces claimants instead of champions: there are no certainties.
September 8, 1974
There is doubt, speculation, controversy, accusation, rumor, intrigue, discontent and a lot of chest thumping and flat-out hollering. And that just may be the most outrageously fun part of it all. In 1973, college football attendance rose to a record high (31,282,540) for the 20th season in a row, and that would seem to indicate that somebody out there digs the deviltry.
Indeed, in a computerized world that cranks out undisputed sports champions like so many punch cards, it is reassuring to know that there is still one athletic endeavor that folds, spindles and mutilates the System. Notre Dame has every right to claim the national championship, but as every loyal Golden Domer knows all too well, the title is called "mythical" for several thousand reasons that the good citizens of Norman, Okla. and Columbus, Ohio, among others, will readily supply.
The 1973 season was a classic example of just how many teams get a crack at No. 1 and throw it away. USC had it at the start, but in the Trojans' third game of the year No. 8 Oklahoma overwhelmed them in total offense, 339 yards to 161. The Sooners somehow managed to cross the goal line only once, but the resulting 7-7 tie dropped the Trojans from the top spot and stigmatized the Sooners despite their runaway-freight-train act the rest of the season.
Ohio State, which replaced USC as No. 1, reigned for two months until that fateful Thanksgiving weekend when it was tied 10-10 by No. 4 Michigan. Had either team won and then beaten USC in the Rose Bowl, it undoubtedly would have been No. 1. But with the tie, all that remained was for Notre Dame, which started out as No. 8 and was not much higher in late October, to stage some high drama, not the least of which was meeting No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. That was the thriller, in which Quarterback Tom Clements, protecting a 24-23 lead in the waning moments, roamed around in his own end zone, and then launched a pass to End Robin Weber that was good for 35 yards and the national championship.
Purely mythical in every way, of course. Even should computers someday close in on college football, there will always be similar big moments as well as the controversy of preseason pigskin prognostication. So read on and let the good times—and all those glorious uncertainties—roll.