It's IncrediBowl!

January 12, 2004

I never thought I'd get it done.

Do you realize how many cases of Tums I consumed to get LSU and
USC to play in the first-ever straight-up national championship
IncrediBowl this Sunday on ABC (8 p.m., EST)?

My ears are cauliflower from all the phone calls. My fingertips
have blisters from punching the calculator. My hotel room is
stuffed with all the bribes from TV executives--lobsters, plasmas
and two or three of their so-called interns.

Hold on. Hey, Mystique! You can't dance on that!

But isn't it sah-weet? We're finally going to play a game to
decide the national champion.

No more "We're Number 1A!" No more computer geeks deciding the
fates of 250-pound fullbacks. No more coaches' valets' barbers
calling their votes into a USA Today/ESPN poll that has become
about as legit as a Cuban election.

Splits are for bowling and bananas and bottom lips but not
college football. Were you going to be happy with the fourth
split title since 1990--USC No. 1 in the AP poll after its 28-14
thumping of Michigan last Thursday, and LSU No. 1 in the BCS poll
after its 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Sunday?
That was going to work for you? Do we have two Miss Americas? Two
Best Actors? What is this, Twonesia?

No! Thus ... the IncrediBowl. Considering this thing had more
snags than Janet Reno's panty hose, I still can't believe it's
going to happen.

It started last week, as you may have heard, when the United Way
faxed LSU coach Nick Saban a contract and begged him to play
USC--if he won the Sugar--the following weekend, the proceeds to
go to the charity. He ignored the offer. And why wouldn't he?
Football for charity? What is this, the U.N.?

No! The only way to lick this stamp was the American way--playing
to ego with large fistfuls of cash.

First, I had to get the schools to buy in. They wheeled out the
lame excuses. They said (whining), "The kids will miss too much
school." Wrong. USC players don't start back to school until the
day after the game and LSU's don't return until a week later.
They said (sniveling), "The kids will play too many games."
Please. Oklahoma scrimmaged in pads twice last week. But when
they heard they'd get $50 million each, almost four times what
they got for the Rose and Sugar bowls, they said (thirstily),
"The kids will be there!"

The players, meanwhile, were so pumped to play this thing, they
needed drool buckets. "To me, that'd be a great solution," said
LSU receiver Michael Clayton. His teammate, quarterback Matt
Mauck, said, "I'm available. Where?"

Well, why not stay right in New Orleans? The Superdome had
nothing booked after the Sugar Bowl until the World of Wheels
auto show (special appearance by the Coors Light Twins!) in 12
days, so they were in. "Let's tee it up!" said Superdome
spokesman Bill Curl. And, hey, they'd only have to repaint one
end zone!

It took some arm-hair pulling, but both coaches bought in, too.
"I've heard people say you can't go down there and beat LSU," USC
coach Pete Carroll said. "Well, that sounds like my kind of
challenge."

Printing and distributing 79,000 tickets was a bitch, until
Kinko's and FedEx merged last week. Then I needed a trophy twice
as good as anything out there. But once I got NASA to perfect the
first-ever office-orbiting diamond holosphere, I had something.
And there was a problem with hotel rooms--a contortionists'
convention was coming to town--but I got them to all move into
one room.

I picked ABC to telecast the game because a) it offered the most
money and b) it offered the most money. All the network had to do
was move an episode of its hit (cough, cough) series 10-8.
(Missed episode: Rico and Barnes capture a 20-foot python in an
apartment!)

But I still needed to turn the one square in the Rubik's cube
that makes it all flush: the NCAA, an organization so primitive
that scientists study it from within glass enclosures, an
organization so idiotic that it doesn't even recognize an NCAA
Division I football champion. They don't even have a trophy for
it!

I flew to Indianapolis, crawled down into the eight-foot-deep
bunker that NCAA president Myles Brand barricades himself in and
insisted he do the right thing for the sport. He agreed. Of
course, seeing the check ABC had given me--$500 million for the
next three IncrediBowls--didn't hurt any.

Should be a helluva tilt: LSU versus USC. Grits versus glitz. Po'
boys versus rich boys.

You really ought to come. Etta James is going to start it off by
belting out At Last before the game; Keith Jackson and Frank
Broyles will be on the mikes, in honor of how many meaningless
bowl games they had to call; and the Marines are bringing in a
Harrier for the first-ever indoor flyby.

You don't have to thank me. I was glad to do it.

Besides, I'm in for 10%.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER

We're finally going to play a game to decide the national
champion. LSU versus USC. Grits versus glitz.

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)