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Original Issue

May the Best Team Win—Big

Those who can't stomach one-sided football games should take up another sport

Every football season it's the same thing: boo-hoo, Vicious State ran up the score on Gentle Tech by so many points that the Gentlemen Techsters have been permanently humiliated and scarred, and they and their coaches, professors, boosters, parents and girlfriends will need lifelong therapy just to make it through each sad, cruel day.

What a crock! Excuse me, but if the possibility of getting beaten by a lot of points weren't part of the package presented to each team before every athletic contest, then games and competition would be so dull that the athletes themselves would lose interest. They would gravitate to things like wing-walking and bank robbery, pastimes that carry severe downsides when done poorly.

Naturally, nobody likes to be whipped 70-7, the way Tulane was flogged by Florida State recently, but that's part of the game, isn't it? Or has political, and psychological, correctness so perverted us that we can't bear the thought of anyone's winning a game by more than the right amount of points? Which is how many points? Seven, 10, 14? Or, gasp, 21? Can whiners handle something as gruesome as a 35-0 bloodletting, the score by which mighty (1-10) Temple beat Boston University this season? Or should Owl coach Jerry Berndt (since fired) have called off the birds after they had taken an insurmountable 7-0 first-quarter lead?

Psychologically Correct coach to his team before a game: "O.K., let's go out there and beat them by a little!"

PC players (in a frenzy): "Remember their psyches!"

Then there is the particularly odious complaining done by NFL coaches and players who have been shellacked by better teams. Phoenix Cardinal coach Joe Bugel snapped after the Washington Redskins beat his team 41-3 on Nov. 29, with the Skins' final touchdown coming on a 10-yard pass with 2:44 to play. "I'm frustrated," he said. "I'm mad. I was disturbed about it." Caught up in self-mortification, Washington coach Joe Gibbs, who is a close friend of Bugel's, apologized profusely for running up the score, saying, "I made a mistake. There's a real lesson in this. It's a bad-sportsmanship thing." All this bile-spewing and breast-thumping occurred even though the win was only the Redskins' second in five weeks, Phoenix had beaten Washington earlier in the season, and the controversial pass was thrown by quarterback Cary Conklin, who was making his NFL debut. "I got carried away with the idea of letting Cary do something," said Gibbs.

We just can't have that, Coach, letting scrubs play as though their performance mattered.

Last year, after the Skins had taken a 45-0 lead in their season opener, against the Detroit Lions, a team that would win its division and play Washington for the NFC championship four months later, Gibbs had his quarterback start kneeling and running out the clock with three minutes left in the game. Washington went from first-and-goal at the one to fourth-and-goal at the 12. The NFL coaching brethren would call that sportsmanship. I call it messing with the game. If you want to do stuff like that, bring in a "slaughter rule" like the one used in rec-league Softball: When one team falls behind by a certain number of points at a certain time in the game—say, 21 after three quarters—call the game and head for the showers. But that would be asinine. Fans pay to watch entire games, even blowouts. You also demean your opponent when you don't play all out. Detroit linebacker Chris Spielman, for one, was outraged that Washington stopped trying. Whenever your team gets annihilated, you ought to go back to the drawing board and try a little harder rather than bitch about your opponent.

Which brings up the New York Giants and their whimpering about the way the Dallas Cowboys beat them 30-3 on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys, who were leading 23-3 with less than 10 minutes left, went for a first down on fourth-and-two at the Giant 30. After getting the first down, Dallas went on to score another touchdown and then continued to blitz New York's rookie quarterbacks. "I thought it was one of the unclassiest things I've ever seen in pro football, for a guy to try to run the score up on you and then blitz two rookie quarterbacks all the way to the end of the game," snarled Giant defensive end Leonard Marshall.

Oh, shut up. What's the deal now—20 points is the most you can win by in the NFL, and rookie QBs get to stand quietly and lob the ball wherever they want? And has it occurred to these gripers that there is such a thing as a comeback? In '84 the University of Miami led Maryland 31-0 at the half and then lost 42-40. And on Sunday night the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran up a 27-3 lead on the Los Angeles Rams—only to lose 31-27. Moreover, if a great team doesn't run up the score a few times, how are we to know the team is great?

You're thinking that this is coming from someone who doesn't know what it's like to be caught under a steamroller. Not true. In 1969 the Northwestern team on which I played lost to Southern Cal 48-6. I didn't like it, but I accepted it; USC was about 42 points better than we were. The next year Northwestern beat Illinois 48-0. Were we 48 points better than the Illini? On that day, yes. At any rate, both games were better than phony "gentle" wins, and as far as I know, everybody on the teams involved survived the experience.

If you want a sport in which the contests are always close and nobody's feelings are ever hurt, I got it for you. It's called pro wrestling. No whining allowed.