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This Does Not Compute

Mike Gorman

Most of us never come close to solving the great mysteries of life. You know: What's a "Hoya"? Do Jesus and Mohammed get together for lunch? How does the washing machine know to take in four socks and give back only three? Where have the Bush twins gone? I mean it. Really. When was the last time anybody saw those cute little rascals Barb and Jenna? Do they still sneak into the liquor cabinet at the White House? Hey. Why can't the Rockies ever beat Atlanta? And what did Michael Jackson do with the rest of his nose? Does he keep it in a jar of brine buried under the merry-go-round? Listen. Ask yourself. Who the hell decided everyone in Iraq has to wear a mustache? And this. How is it that a roomful of computer geeks get to choose college football's national champion?

This last Big Question is on everyone's lips this week. Especially now that the two "top" football teams in the country have been selected, by the crack computer used by the Bowl Championship Series, to play in the Sugar Bowl on January 4. To say the least, the computer's decision has not been a popular one. That's because anybody who knows the first thing about college football knows that J.B. Seeley Junior College (Resume Speed, Texas) and the Jacques Delorme Institute of Wine Studies did not field the best teams out there this season -- not by a long shot, I'm here to tell ya.

Why, any idiot who's ever waved a pennant can tell you that the Sluggards got their butts handed to them way back in the fourth week of the season by a far more inspired bunch from Jerkwater Automotive and Technical. As you may remember, the Jackdaws sacked Seeley's highly rated junior quarterback, Harvey N. Prance, nine times that afternoon. En route to a 78-3 win. Strength of schedule or no cockeyed strength of schedule, those pretenders from Seeley have got no damn business in the title game. And I'm not saying that just because I earned a degree from Jerkwater (Carburetion Science, '78) or because my ex-brother-in-law happens to be the assistant athletic director. Nope. That's not it at all. The point is, you give this friggin' computer a little bit of information, and the damn thing will figure out a way to screw it up, to come up with a conclusion so bass ack-ward that you start to wonder who the hell's in charge, The damn machine or the people who have actually got eyes in their heads.

Now. As for Jacques Delorme. Granted, they've got a nice-looking little team up there, what with the all-purple unis and those corks they wear on their heads, and from everything I've heard, the training table is really something special. Not just T-bones, but great big, prime-grade T-bones with big dollops of béarnaise sauce on 'em, for God's sake. And croissants. With café au lait. I mean, no other school in northeastern North Dakota can quite measure up to that. No wonder the Cabernets can recruit. Just look at all those huge, muscle-bound farm boys they get from Minnesota and Ohio and Wisconsin. It's simple. Kids just can't wait to get their fists around a big bowl of boeuf bourguignonne and a nice carafe of 1975 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. No wonder Coach Brillat-Savin has been able to build up such a strong program. Anybody with a big jug of cognac instead of Gatorade out there on the sidelines is bound to attract some top prospects.

But the national title game? The Sugar Bowl? You gotta be kidding me. For one thing, who can forget that crucial road loss to Southwest Alaska State? You know. That was only two weeks ago. Sure, it was cold up there, and the Delorme players could apparently really feel it. You don't amputate three toes from your starting middle linebacker's left foot at halftime and claim it wasn't cold. No one's saying that. Hey. Any time a third-string wide receiver and two towel boys freeze to death sitting on the bench in the second quarter and no one even notices, you gotta think it got a tad chilly. Maybe the folks up there in Elk Rump ought to rethink those 10 p.m. kickoffs they're so all-fired fond of. Pretty tough on visiting teams. But that still makes no alibi for the Cabernets -- or for the crazy-ass computer program that put them in the big game. You get beat 2-0 by anybody and your stock just has to fall, computer program or no friggin' computer program. So what if a couple of engines on the team plane seized up on the way home and they had to ditch in Lake Winnipeg? Football's a hard-ass game, and sympathy goes only so far. What'll you bet that computer had sympathy figured into its selection program? I mean, Jacques Delorme? You must be joking. Why, as recently as 1971, Jerkwater put a 17-14 whuppin' on those guys. And where did it get them this year?

So hear me out. Just like you, I don't give two hoots what some whacked-out computer says. Go, Jackdaws! You're Number One!


JFK went down to Dallas. Hitler figured the troops would love Stalingrad in January. Saddam Hussein decided to take his chances in court instead of sticking that gun up his nose. And Mike Shanahan -- the former Mastermind -- ordered Clinton Portis to carry the freight one more time. Because of that choice, your Denver Broncos just might find themselves watching the playoffs in their living rooms. Because without Portis, the Broncos bear a striking resemblance to, say, the Buffalo Bills or the Cleveland Browns. They're a race car with no engine, dinner sans the entree.

When it comes to decision-making, good or bad, the willful Mr. Shanahan always gets his way, and he certainly couldn't have dreamed Sunday afternoon that his star running back would get hurt on his 38th carry of the day, in overtime. What Shanahan did know, or should have known, is that when the moment comes to conclude your business, you do it -- you kick the damn field goal and get everybody into the showers. But no. The king of theory wanted Portis's run to line the ball up just so -- so that a cheerleader could have booted it through, or a drunk stumbling out of the South Stands. As a result, his brilliant but overworked mule (Portis has six straight 100-yard games and 1,500-plus yards for the season) will either miss Sunday's night's crucial game against the formidable Indianapolis Colts or step onto the killer Indy AstroTurf with a tender knee and ankle. The Broncos' nice little playoff run is suddenly in grave jeopardy.

For his part, the coach said Monday that he was more worried about a Portis fumble on carry number 38 than any sort of Portis injury -- an opinion hotly debated on the sports-blab shows this week and, not insignificantly, in the minds of more than a few Denver Broncos. When Shannon Sharpe jumped into Shanahan's ear a moment after the Portis injury, the message was not just dissatisfaction, but -- judging by Sharpe's body language -- something more like revolt.

This season, Shanahan has had more questions thrown at him than Saddam's getting from the CIA, and he's got no good answer for the one that may have ended his team's post-season dream. Of course, Sunday's 23-20 squeaker over Cleveland should never have come to a field goal in OT. It should never have demanded Portis's 30th carry, much less the 38th. As with the Chicago Bears debacle, Shanahan didn't have his guys ready to play -- at home -- against a much inferior opponent. They were lucky to win the thing at all, and what they've won, more likely, is a nice seat on the couch in time for a playoff game contested by Baltimore or even the heretofore awful Cincinnati Bengals. Imagine that.