Last season an enterprising group of Colorado State students, their profit motives not dulled by watching the Ram football team stagger to a 1-10 record, printed and sold about 1,000 bumper stickers that proclaimed "We're No. 1," with the "'No. 1" printed upside down. Not only was it a less cumbersome boast than "We're No. 121," but it was accurate. While USC, Oklahoma and other juggernauts were fighting for the top of the weekly AP and UPI polls, havenaut Colorado State was squirming and scratching, and eventually failing, to avoid winning a less prestigious but far more amusing poll, the Bottom 10.
Here, straight from the Bottom 10's creator and lone voter, Steve Harvey, a Los Angeles newspaperman, is how the terrible teams finished behind CSU in '72: 2) Brown 1-8, 3) Texas-El Paso 2-8, 4) New Mexico State 2-9, 5) Wake Forest 2-9, 6) Pitt 1-10, 7) Northwestern 2-9, 8) Oregon State 2-9, 9) New Mexico 3-8, 10) Vanderbilt 3-7. Hats on to them all.
Harvey is somewhat saddened this season. He doesn't have Colorado State (3-4) to kick around anymore, and Brown, of all schools, after forming a Farewell to Steve Harvey Club, has already won one and tied one.
The Bottom 10 is, of course, a parody of the wire-service polls, a little needle used to puncture high-pressure, win-we-must football. Sold by the Universal Press Syndicate to 57 newspapers for 17 weeks in the fall, the feature rates the worst college teams, tabs an upcoming "Crummy Game of the Week" and hands out some "special citations," such as the one Oregon got last season for blocking three extra-point attempts while losing to Oklahoma 68-3. At the syndicate's urging, in 1970 Harvey started to rate the poorest of the pros. It made his job tougher because there are usually four or five "really bad ones and about 16 more that are interchangeable, so I have to rank them according to whom I have a grudge against that particular week."
Sometimes Harvey throws in what he calls "non sequiturs," like rating the Penn Central Railroad in the Bottom 10, or the entire Atlantic Coast Conference, or tempestuous Pitcher Denny McLain. But the feature's staples are wisecracks, some good and some not likely to make us forget Jim Murray:
"Columbia's defensive team, which finished fourth in the voting for the Nobel Peace Prize...."
"Led by its famous backfield, the Four Mules, Washington State romped to a 1-10 record during the 1970 season."
"So far, the only disturbing aftereffect of Gabriel's acupuncture treatment is that he now calls the plays in Chinese."
The Bottom 10 is understandably unpopular among some coaches and publicists. Pat Quinn, sports information director at Oklahoma State, called it "syndicated cynicism, devoid of compassion or talent." He added, "Let's hope the coaches don't think to start a 'Bottom 10' among sportswriters!" Army Coach Tom Cahill called it "garbage" and Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, who has a Ph.D. in educational philosophy, said, "It's destructive to a team's morale and the program." A reader recently called it "the most disgusting sports column ever conceived."
If many rank Harvey as the worst of sportswriters, ex-Texas A&M Coach Gene Stallings would have loved to use him as a season-long tackling dummy ("One of the safest jobs I can think of," Harvey answered).
"That column is sick, and any paper that runs it is sick," said Stallings. "... There's no such thing as a crummy football game. Even if it's sandlot, every one of those players has a momma, poppa and sweetheart, and it's not crummy to them."
Harvey once received a letter from a coach in Utah telling him that he was ruining the lives of 19 people—the coaches, their wives and their children. It seemed that every time he ranked that school, more wealthy alumni stopped their donations.
"It's a lot to have on your conscience, believe me," said Harvey.
Actually, he has a lot of things besides football misdeeds weighing on his conscience. For instance, when he was writing for the Daily Trojan he was hanged in effigy by the USC marching band. He had reported that there had been such a poor turnout for the band that year that a lot of students had been hired just to lug instruments and march even though they couldn't play a note. Two of the three tuba players were fakes, he claimed.
"I'm irreverent, I guess," he said. "I don't know if I'm important enough to be an iconoclast. I was at USC when Gary Beban of UCLA threw two touchdown passes to beat us and it occurred to me afterward that I was going to be able to make it through life anyway."
The Bottom 10 started at the Daily Trojan in the fall of 1965 ("It just occurred to me one day," says Harvey) and he took it with him to the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner when he got a part-time job there. The West Palm Beach Post-Times picked it up, then more Florida papers and finally, in 1970, it became syndicated. Harvey, who works full time now for the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times, is reluctant to say how much he earned from the feature last year, but as salaries go it would qualify for the Bottom 10.
And there are some little satisfactions along with the irate letters and the saddened mommas and poppas. Like the Kansas State alumni on the Topeka Capital-Journal who used to run over to the sports department on the day the Bottom 10 came in to see if their alma mater had made it. Alas, Kansas State, 4-2, has no chance this season.
But one of the nice things about sport is that there are always losers, and if Kansas State, Brown and Colorado State have defected, such teams as Syracuse, Army and Florida State have stumbled in to replace them.
"I have Syracuse as the worst on the basis of their athletic budget," said Harvey last week. "I figure that they are spending more money per defeat than anyone else this year. They need a team transplant and I'm not going to hold my breath until they win a game. But there is also another important reason; inasmuch as the Bottom 10 is a parody of the Top 20 polls, I reserve the right for mine to be as inaccurate as theirs are."