Don't Touch This No. 1 Pick With a 10-Foot Poll

The Mike Downey/Mad Magazine/Home Shopping Network poll results are in, and the winner of college football's national championship is . . . East Carolina! Congratulations, boys! As one of our three national champions, you will soon be receiving your personal invitations to the White House to meet with the Presidents of the United States, George Bush and Michael Dukakis, who were voted co-commanders in our two 1988 elections. See you in the Rose Garden!

Well, why not? Why can't I name East Carolina the national champion? Oh, yeah? Who says I can't? I'm sponsored by a major publication. I'm co-sponsored by a major TV network. I conducted a poll. I polled the fans. Let others poll the coaches. Let others poll the press. Not me, baby. I took it to the people. I gauged public opinion. Vox populi. Mine's as real as anybody else's poll. East Carolina, baby.

Actually, all I did was this: I got the number for directory assistance in the general vicinity of greater Greenville, N.C., a nice little town of about 35,000 in eastern Carolina, home to the campus of, uh, East Carolina. Nice people. Nice place. Not far from Farmville, just beyond Goldsboro. I told the operator I was taking a poll. I asked her: "What's the best football team in the whole country?"

"East Carolina!" she said.

"One vote for East Carolina!" said I.

Well, to be fair, I figured I'd better get a cross-section. You know, more than one opinion. So, I called up the directory assistance person near Seattle. Asked the same question. And he said: "Washington Huskies!" And I jotted this down, hung up, dialed (305) 555-1212, got a woman from South Florida and asked her the same thing. " 'Canes, woo!" she replied, which I took to mean Miami.

After that, all I had to do was break the tie.

So, I polled me.

Why not? I have a right to a vote. It's my poll and I can vote if I want to. I thought of it. And I voted for East Carolina. I like East Carolina. East Carolina's got moxie. I think his name's Darryl Moxie, a wide receiver. East Carolina looked good on New Year's Day. East Carolina scored 37 points in a bowl game. That's more than Miami scored. That's more than Washington scored. And that's enough for me.

Besides, I didn't want to break any hearts at Washington by voting for Miami. And I didn't want to break any hearts at Miami by voting for Washington.

I did toy with the idea of voting for either Miami or Washington, however, just to break the tie between the other two polls. I don't know who decided they were the only polls that mattered. I don't know who died and made them boss.

Wait a minute. Maybe I do. United Press International died and left them boss. If UPI can just roll over and bequeath their poll to USA Today and CNN, then I guess anybody can have a poll, including me. Associated Press surveys the press. USA Today and CNN survey the coaches. But I survey America. It's the national championship, so let's ask the nation who should be champion. I represent you, my fellow Americans. I am the Golden Globes of football polls.

If all it takes is some backing, so be it. I called up Mad Magazine and asked for the publisher, and a Mr. Newman came on the line and told me to go ahead with my poll. Then I called up the Home Shopping Network and spoke to the president, who gave me permission to use the network's name in conjunction with my poll and also recommended a beautiful gold brooch that was a steal at $99.95.

Nobody asked how many people I should poll. Nobody asked how many coaches anybody should poll. Nobody asked how many reporters anybody should poll.

Nobody cared how many games my directory-assistance operators have seen. How many games have coaches seen? They're all busy coaching. They're preoccupied on Saturday afternoons. They're in practice all week. When do they get time to watch Washington and Miami? How many reporters actually saw Washington play? How many times? Once? Twice? In person? On television?

Why would anyone vote for Washington over Miami? On what basis? Personality? Talent? Swimsuit? For that matter, why would anyone vote for Miami over Washington? Because Miami beat Nebraska by 22 points, whereas Washington beat Nebraska by 15? What's that got to do with anything? Washington won at Nebraska. Miami won in Miami. So what? Could either of them beat East Carolina? Are you positive?

My vote (and my poll) goes to East Carolina because its record was 11-1 and it got gypped in the game it lost. After recovering an onside kick against Illinois in the season opener, the Pirates were penalized 15 yards for celebrating the onside kick. They lost by a touchdown. Then they won 11 games in a row.

I know, Illinois lost to Michigan, which lost to Washington. And I know, Illinois lost to Michigan, which lost to Florida State, which lost to Miami. Proving what? Illinois also lost to UCLA. Illinois also lost to Northwestern. Enough. You're giving me a headache.

Let's settle this thing on the field. Washington vs. Miami vs. East Carolina, all on one field, one game, winner take all. Thirty-three of the toughest kids in college football. I'll put my national champions against anybody's. Why? Because if having two winners with two elections is supposed to make sense, then having three winners with three elections does, too. Ask the Presidents.

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