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Who’s the Silly One, Mr. USA?

In preseason polls for years, sportswriters have overrated Florida State, Florida and Miami in the top 10. They love to spend October and November weekends in the sunshine covering one of their highly rated teams. Morgantown, W.Va.; Lincoln, Neb., and South Bend, Ind., don’t have the same appeal. Yes, some sportswriters really are that silly.

--Written opinion of AL NEUHARTH, founder of USA Today, Dec. 30, 1993.

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Being called silly by the guy who created USA Today is like being called promiscuous by Joey Buttafuoco.

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This week’s wisdom from the button-down mind of Al Neuharth suggests that it must have been an unusually slow news day at USA Today, the USA’s silliest newspaper. Most mornings, such valuable space would be reserved for more resonating topics such as why Americans are eating more Hostess Twinkies than ever before, or possibly one of USA Today’s pressing questions to people on the street: “Bosnia-Herzegovina: Good or Bad?”

Ordinarily, none of Mr. Neuharth’s meandering, ya-hooing jingoism would be noteworthy, inasmuch as he has pretty much retreated from his active role as the USA’s silliest individual. (Read his book.) However, after his recent rambling editorial (15 paragraphs, just short of a USA Today record) on the ulterior motives of voters in the two polls that anoint college football’s national champion, it does seem pertinent to point something out.

One of these polls is sponsored by USA Today.

Far be it from me to insinuate any bias on the part of Honest Al Neuharth in drawing his conclusions of one poll’s possible superiority over another. No, in point of fact, as Howard Cosell used to say, the panel whose votes are tabulated by the crack USA Today/CNN staff happens to be embodied by football coaches from around this great USA of ours, all of whom are better equipped to judge a team’s merits than a bunch of silly sportswriters. (Although how many coaches spend time observing any team but their own?)

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Media ignorance is a time-honored argument. We long ago stopped taking it personally.

This, though, could be the first time anyone has theorized a bias in football polls based on the climate .

Yes, sir, Al, boy, you got us. No real lover of college football would ever care to travel to, oh, Notre Dame or Penn State or Michigan or Ohio State or Washington or Nebraska or Colorado or any of those cold, cold, outdoor meat lockers they call campuses. No way we would ever vote any of these schools near the top of our ranking. We wouldn’t go near them with a 10-foot ranking. That’s why you never see any of these schools get votes in our silly little polls.

Because, brrrr, then we’d actually have to go see Florida State play at Notre Dame, or see Oklahoma play at Nebraska, or see Alabama play at Penn State. What an ordeal this would be. We would actually have to, oh, you know, go out and buy a coat or something . Yeah, who in their right mind would want to spend a day in October seeing a college football game between two strong teams in some picturesque, tree-lined community like Ann Arbor, Mich., when we could be basking in the sunshine of the beautiful Burger King and Arby’s drive-through windows of Gainesville, Fla.?

You are on to us, Al, pal.

In fact, here is my top 10 for next season, submitted early to the Associated Press: 1--Florida State; 2--Miami; 3--Florida; 4--South Florida; 5--North Florida; 6--Florida Tech; 7--Jacksonville; 8--Miami Dade Community College; 9--Tampa Bay Academy of Motel Management and Motorcycle Repair; 10--Wisconsin.

(Slipped that last one in so my vote wouldn’t appear rigged.)

I don’t know why we would appear silly to old Al. It couldn’t be because, say, Bryan Burwell, the eminent sports authority and accused Cornhusker-basher of USA Today, vowed in one of his columns this week that if Nebraska upsets Florida State in the big Orange Bowl game here Saturday, “I’ll take a bath in a vat of creamed corn.”

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Never having actually mixed Mr. Bubble with anything grown and manufactured by the Jolly Green Giant in my lifetime of bathing, about all I can do for my buddy Bryan is to remind him not to forget those hard-to-reach places in his ears and between his toes.

As I sit here wishing West Virginia would move to a warmer state so I could watch it play more often, I ponder one last time the eloquence of Allen F. Neuharth, football fan, newspaper publisher, plain talker, who advises voters not to rank Notre Dame behind Florida State should both teams win. Because, Al writes: “Anyone who votes for Florida State over Notre Dame is nuts or has a very short memory.”

Take it from me, on this subject, this guy knows what he’s talking about.


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