Coach's Corner

by Andy "Coach" Cotton I'm not at all certain where this incongruous seepage began; silently and insidiously, to be sure. Like discovering, after 30 days of avoiding the scale, that the low-fat egg nog you've been swilling since before Thanksgiving didn't have the desired effect. Or, how about that bare spot on the top of your head. What's that about? It began innocently enough -- a first sneeze which turns out to be the unappreciated harbinger of a nasty flu -- midway through the first quarter of the Sugar Bowl. As an Ohio State cornerback intercepted a Florida State pass in the end zone, I rose spontaneously from my well-worn divan and pumped my fist, happy, for some reason, to see the Seminole drive thwarted. I have never, ever, in my entire life, cheered for anything or anybody with those stupid buckeyes on their hats. Like a forgotten dream, only a wispy, fleeting strand of this thought remained in my mind as Red- and Gray- clad Ohioans danced in the end zone. Quickly, like the initial sneeze, I forgot about it. A few minutes later, with an obviously badly mismatched Ohio State somehow hanging in the game, it happened again, as the beleaguered OSU quarterback (running like a terrified wildebeest before the flashing teeth of the lioness) skittered for a rare first down. Again, I leap from my chair, as if Kukoc just sank a winning three-spot at the buzzer. Whatthefuck was wrong with me?

Symptoms had occurred earlier in the day, as I found myself openly rooting for another long detested Big Ten team, the Michigan Wolverines. At half-time I tried to puzzle this out. Okay, I'm thinking, my son's applied for admission to Michigan. So maybe I'm projecting. They, to this point, have shown not the slightest interest in admitting this hopeful freshman. Perhaps they're not impressed with the creativity involved in setting up his rigorous senior schedule, with his first class at 2pm, allowing time, around 3, for a lunch break. I should be rooting for big underdog Washington State. Be this as it may, as the Big Blue begins another pounding second half drive, I want to see these Pac-Ten dogs driven into the California turf.

At half-time of the Orange Bowl, the situation could no longer be ignored. I'd no sooner cheer the Nebraska Cornhuskers than I'd don Emmitt Smith's jersey for a Cowboy party. Yet here I was, now quite openly, with none of the self-conscious affectations displayed earlier, rooting hard, pounding on the coffee table for Nebraska to stomp the living shit out of those hillbillies from Tennessee.

In therapy, I learned the value of talking these things out. I shook Floyd, an overly large, brindle boxer, out of his deep, sleepy reverie. With enormous effort he opened one eye, hopeful, no doubt, it might be dinnertime. When it became apparent, even to this not overly bright animal, that I wasn't heading into the kitchen, he sighed deeply and went back to sleep. His sister Roxy, a small but psychotically aggressive pup, was more receptive to my needs. The deal was this: She'd pretend to listen, even occasionally licking my face, as long as I kept scratching her tummy. When my arm soon tired, she crawled under the table and joined Floyd. What am I doing, I wondered, talking to dogs? What do they know about football, anyway?

Facts are these: I've been genetically pre-conditioned to hate certain teams: Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, the Cowboys, and the Longhorns. Nebraska was an acquired taste. Five years at a fellow Big Eight school, watching the Children of the Corn stomp you in every sport, will do that to you.

For the first time in my life I wondered -- I mentioned this to Floyd -- am I becoming, as I move uncomfortably through middle age, a Republican? How else to explain this sudden, unexpected partisan onset of affection for the huge, lumbering monoliths of the corporate college power structure, each the very essence of the football factory mentality I claim to detest? Winston Churchill said something about the foolishness of anyone over 50 being a liberal. Churchill, I trust, would not have been a Florida State booster.

My girlfriend patted me on the head, allowing that maybe I was taking this line of thought a little too far. Perhaps so. I do know this, however. When watching a contest where I have no predetermined favorites or enemies, I can only trust my heart, historically a most untrustworthy companion. It goes where it wants, as I've proved repeatedly with ill-advised affairs of passion, no matter how wrong the thinking part of me knows it to be. I can no more make myself root for a team than I can grow gills. I know. I've tried. I tried to be a Ranger fan, an Astro fan, and a Spurs fan. Nothing happened. No fire. No passion. Just this weekend I gave my Rangers jersey to Goodwill.

I'll leave you with two comments on a controversial bowl season. My boy Scott Frost is by far the most underrated player in America, and has been for two years. And, as I've said before, I can live happily without a college playoff tournament. The co-championship shared by both my teams, Michigan and Nebraska, is just and fair.