Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 20, 2012

Defensive national title game was not boring

In College Football’s Game of the Year, the number one team played the number two team (in the polls) for the National Championship.  

Alabama lost in overtime, 9 to 6, back in November when they played a regular season game marked by awesome defenses and settled by field goals.  In the rematch, it was almost “same song, second verse,” except that Alabama of course won handily, again with field goals until a late touchdown sealed the Bayou Bengals’ fate.

The National Media dubbed it boring. Dull.

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According to National Media polls over the years, the National Media is less trusted by the average American than the much-maligned used car salesmen. I trust them less than that, speaking personally.

That was not a boring game, especially to a former college football player!
Contrary to what most of the National Media said, this was not the first time a rematch of highly-ranked teams has settled the mythical National Championship.  

The year before I went to Ole Miss to play for the Rebels, LSU had won the regular season match-up on Billy Cannon’s legendary punt return, which gave them a 7-3 victory on a rain-soaked field in a classic defensive struggle. We had a second chance in the Sugar Bowl, which the Rebels won by a similar score to last week’s game, 21-0. Heisman Trophy winner Cannon was held to minus yards rushing and the Grantland Rice Trophy went to Ole Miss that year, and the next.

Neither of those were boring games either.

For quarterbacks, receivers, running backs, and National Media, an offensive shoot-out is the ideal non-boring football game. For defensive teams, a game settled by a field goal because neither team has been able to sustain a drive to the goal line is the ideal non-boring game – especially if the field is a wet, soggy mess like the aforementioned first Ole Miss – LSU game.

Any defensive lineman or linebacker loves the chance to shove one of those hotshot backs’ faces into a mud puddle at the bottom of a pile-up. Mud is a great equalizer for a defensive game, although neither of the Alabama-LSU games was on a muddy field this year. They both just had great defenses, no matter what kind of field they played on!

It isn’t boring to a linebacker when you time the count perfectly and charge right through a gap unexpectedly to be right there in the quarterback’s face as he drops back to pass and turns around. The look in his eyes just before you cream him is the reason you play ball!

It isn’t boring for a nose guard to get in under the center’s elbows, stand him up, then grab the fullback just before he hits the hole and ride him to the turf for a loss on the play.

It isn’t boring for a defensive lineman to battle toward the quarterback in the pocket, then time your leap perfectly to bat the pass back into his face, or better yet, to tip it up for an interception by you or a teammate.

It isn’t boring for a defensive end to string out an option play, refusing to commit to the quarterback until his trailing pitchman is almost out of bounds.

Nor, on the other side of the ball, is it boring for a pulling guard to come around behind his tackle and end, leading the sweep, and catch a linebacker just at knee level for a block that enables your halfback to turn the corner for a first down.

It’s not boring for a tackle to cross-block unexpectedly and catch a great big defensive lineman just right on your shoulder to actually flip him upside-down.

It’s a team sport, National Media, and the defense is on the team, too.

Grantland’s Rice’s last two lines are most quoted, but before them, he says:

“Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,

“Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line.

“For when that One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game!”   

Hey, maybe it’s the National Media itself that’s dull and boring, you reckon?