BLOCKBUSTER BOWL : Walsh-Paterno Gets Top Pregame Billing


So, is it more prestigious to be a legend or a genius?

That knotty question of virtually no consequence has been the central theme in the hype and pageantry this week in what will probably be the last Blockbuster Bowl.

Today's game between Stanford, coached by Bill Walsh (a.k.a. "the Genius"), and Penn State, coached by Joe Paterno (a.k.a. "the Legend"), is unlikely to answer that question. In fact, the game will probably be little more than an afternoon distraction while everyone in south Florida waits for the Sugar Bowl to start.

Even the storied coaches are a little embarrassed about what a big deal is being made of their confrontation.

"I hope the camera doesn't go back and forth between Bill and myself because you might catch me picking my nose or something," said Paterno, who could pick up his 15th bowl victory, tying him for first with former Alabama coach Paul (Bear) Bryant. "I'm flattered that people would be as interested in the way we're going to coach as the way the kids are going to play."

Walsh, who could win his third bowl game, agreed: "I haven't given much thought to (the coaching matchup) and I'm sure Joe hasn't either. Once the game starts, I expect that O.J. McDuffie and Glyn Milburn will get most of the spotlight."

Paterno, although not a genius, certified Walsh's observation.

"Absolutely, they're both faster than us."

Indeed, McDuffie vs. Milburn might be the real appeal that this struggling bowl needs once the game starts.

McDuffie, a senior wide receiver, caught 63 passes this season for 977 yards and nine touchdowns. He holds or shares 15 Penn State records.

Milburn, a senior tailback, led Stanford with 851 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. But Milburn is most exciting when he fields punts, having returned three for touchdowns, a Pac-10 record.

"I think they are comparable as athletes," Walsh said. "I just wish we had used Milburn as a wide receiver. I should have given him more opportunities outside as a receiver. Both are great players who can make the play that can win a game."

Paterno echoed his respect: "O.J. McDuffie is pretty close to being the best athlete I've ever been around. . . . I used to think (NFL Hall of Famer) Lenny Moore was the best player I've been around . . . McDuffie is the same way."

Penn State's appearance in this bowl has hardly been a surprise. The Nittany Lions, who will join the Big Ten next season, cut a deal before the season began that would put them in the Blockbuster Bowl if they won six games. They finished the season ranked 21st with a 7-4 record. Stanford is ranked 13th at 9-3.

"For a while, I wasn't sure we were going to make (six victories)," Paterno said. "But I hardly mentioned (the Blockbuster Bowl) to the players or staff. I did get concerned when we were not playing very well. My other concern was that I wasn't sure the Blockbuster people could come up with a team as good as Stanford."

Well, they did, Coach, and Walsh felt obligated to gush back.

"There is a resourcefulness, a poise that is inherent in the (Penn State) program," Walsh said. "We're playing one of the best, if not the best-coached football team in the country."

The same note of praise cannot be said for the bowl. Only 50,000 tickets have been sold, and only 20,000 of those to south Florida residents. About 9,000 tickets were given to charities by the teams, Blockbuster sponsors bought another 10,000, and 3,000 were bought by the video store chain that bears the bowl's name.

Wayne Huizenga, the Blockbuster boss who has recently spent a lot of time buying professional sports franchises, says that it is unlikely that Blockbuster will be back as a sponsor next season.

"Our name would probably not be on it," Huizenga told the Miami Herald. "I don't think Blockbuster corporate or Blockbuster franchises are interested in anything that is not first tier."

Officials of Raycom, the company that controls TV rights, said the game will be held for at least two years and they hope to find a new title sponsor.

But still, the bowl that is "not first tier" hopes to go out with a bit of a flash. Along with McDuffie and Milburn, each team has additional players to note.

Stanford quarterback Steve Stenstrom has thrown for 2,399 yards and 14 touchdowns.

"He has a lot of poise and handles himself very well," Walsh said. "I think he'll be better next year but at this time he, in a sense, carries the team."

Carrying the ball for Penn State will be Richie Anderson, who ran for 900 yards and 18 touchdowns. Anderson averaged 10.55 points per game, second only to Georgia's Garrison Hearst.

"People should understand there are two very fine football teams in this game with some outstanding individual players," Paterno said one last time. "The emphasis should be on the quality of the play and the intensity of the game."

And if it's a really good game, maybe next week you can rent it at your local video store.

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