Sunday, September 2, 2007

Revenge of the Body Baggers

The expression is quite expressive, yet so apt.

The Body Bag Games.

That's how it was for Gene Murphy, coach of the woebegone Cal State Fullerton football program until its bitter end in 1992. The Titans were a Division I-A team all right, to this day the proud owner of two NCAA D-IA records: Most fumbles (73) in a single season, and most fumbles lost (41).

I should know because I was part of that traveling circus from 1987-91. We still have bruise marks after receiving beatdowns in places like Gainesville, Auburn, Baton Rouge and Morgantown. And on occasion, the Titans would bus to the Rose Bowl to get a neighborhood spanking.

All for a glorious $250,000 check.

Before Saturday, I was going to eviscerate the continued existence of those Body Bag Games, 15 years after Fullerton's football program joined the dearly departed. I was on a mission to rid this dastardly concoction, a collusion of the Haves' desire to fill up their stadiums by showcasing live tackling dummies and the Have Nots' need for cash flow.

Until this happened: Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.

If you don't recognize this game as the biggest upset in the history of college football, may I recommend a copy of "Football for Dummies?"

Never mind that the Mountaineers are the two-time defending Division I-AA champion, this is unprecedented. No D-IAA team has ever beaten a ranked D-IA team during the entire existence of the AP poll ... let along one ranked No. 5, with national championship aspirations ... in the biggest stadium in the country ... against the winningest program (in both wins and by percentage) in college football history.

This is Meeeechigan we're talking about.

Now Michigan has big problems. Michigan's defense had no answer for APU's fleet-footed quarterback Armanti Edwards. Michigan's offense had no rhythm and no pause. Michigan's special teams had no organization to keep field goals from being blocked. Michigan's coaches had no clue.

Michigan's administration also didn't do its homework, either. The Wolverines had the pick of the litter for this Body Bag Game, with a $400,000 payout dangling from the gates of the Big House. The Mountaineers practically begged for this game -- that right there should've aroused some suspicion.

Mercifully, this public humiliation was not televised -- not unless you had DirecTV and therefore access to the 3-day-old Big Ten Network. The highlights, which will burn into the minds of the Maize and Blue faithful for eternity, didn't do the game justice, for Appalachian State actually dominated most of the game.

The outcome of this cautionary tale should affect the future of Body Bag Games. Big schools will now more carefully vet out potential Body Bag applicants for fear of another season-killing, reputation-tarnishing loss. Little schools will have a harder time going out of its region in search of a big paycheck. Rest assured, Appalachian State is not coming anywhere near Big Ten country in the next 10 years.

Yep, the repercussions will be most keenly felt by the Big Ten. In many ways, this entire conference needs to get into the 21st century. Bo and Woody have moved on, and so should Big Ten football. There's a reason why that, aside from Ohio State's lone (and fluky) 2002 national title, the Big Ten has not been a factor in the BCS Era.

The Big Ten has fallen far behind the SEC and Pac-10 in terms of coaching and talent development. The staid conservatism that has served the conference well in the past is no longer working when it gets outside of the Midwest. The Big Ten has to improve on its speed, skill, aggression and creativity to stay relevant.

But before we get too much of the big-picture stuff, Saturday's upset for the ages was for the little guys. For all the kids on the wrong side of a 65-0 wipeout. For good ol' Murph and all the coaches who needed the check to fund the next recruiting trip and fix broken shoulder pads.

Hail to the Body Baggers.

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