If You're Gonna Bust A Myth, Bring A Bigger Gun

Back when I started blogging in 2004, deconstructing egregious columns in the mainstream media was a favorite sport among us bloggers. When that quickly became boring and counterproductive, we mostly retired the practice. Today, it makes a brief return appearance at BON, courtesy of an assault on one of our holy grails--the 2006 Rose Bowl. (Is this post gratuitous? Yes. Too detailed a rebuttal for a lousy column? Yes. Do I care? Clearly not.)

By now you've likely seen the Fan Post pointing to Phil Guidry's "Mythbusters" column at SI On Campus. BON'ers have already begun tearing into the flesh of Mssr. Guidry's argument, and I can't resist joining the swarm surrounding Guidry's corpse like a dozen ten year olds piled together to chop violently at a soccer ball. Kick-kick-kick!

I'm in. Let's do this.

Get us started, Guidry:

While it was an exhilarating display of offense (the two teams combined for 1130 total yards and 32 fourth quarter points) and was certainly an entertaining game, it's not quite the greatest game ever. That's because it's lacking a few key elements that the so-called "greatest game ever" should have.

Defense, for example.

Yes, Texas stuffed LenDale White on that infamous fourth-and-two play that ultimately cost the Trojans the title (fortunately then-USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has moved on to bigger and better things with the Raiders). And yes, Michael Griffin did pick off a Leinart pass in the end zone. But an average of over seven yards per play? Seven yards is a good quarter in an SEC game, but seven per play is more in line with the WAC. And really, do we want the shining example of the sport to most closely resemble a Hawaii-Nevada shootout?

Let's try to be fair and consider the possibility that the assertion is true--great games require great defense. It's... well, it's a fine concept in the abstract, but difficult to apply. Guidry cites the 7 yards per play allowed by each defense as evidence of a defect in the contest. Okay. Let's roll with that. What if the teams had averaged 4 yards per play? Does it follow that the game would have been more exciting/great? To the contrary, we'd essentially subtract several scoring drives and/or big plays and add several three and outs, endorsement of which is like saying that movie you just watched on HBO could have been a little better if only there'd been a few commercial interruptions mixed in.

The only remaining possibility, then, is that Guidry is suggesting the greatest game must be defined more by dominant defense than offense. Our experience suggests Guidry is insane. Would he prefer this crime against humanity? That's clearly an unsustainable proposition, so... what is he saying? Ironically, Guidry is just perpetuating a myth: that great football requires great defense.

On the whole, there's some truth to the notion that we want the sport to feature great defense at least as often as great offense, but only insofar as the sport wouldn't be as interesting if every game was like Hawaii-Nevada because there was no emphasis on defense. But for any single game, there's simply nothing inherently better about a defensive struggle. The only guarantee in a defensive struggle is that the game will be tight, but when a shootout is tight, too, the point is neutered.

If one can prefer a defensive struggle to a shootout, the argument that a great game has to be one is untenable. 0-for-1, Guidry.

But since we're all reduced to drooling simpletons at the sight of large offensive numbers, many bought into the Trojan hype, even though that team had the worst defense of the Pete Carroll era. That's why the Longhorn victory was considered an "upset," even though the point spread was only a touchdown and anyone following those two teams all season long should have known UT was the more complete package.

Guidry's argument here is, essentially: "Many argued the 2005 Trojans were the greatest of all time. But it was obvious to some of us that Texas was equally titanic. Therefore, this wasn't a stunning upset and the game wasn't as great as some say."

That would be a fine point to make if arguments about the game's greatness depended on it being some sort of David over Goliath story. To the contrary, the game was billed and turned out to be a clash between titans. And whether USC was over-hyped or not, ending a 34-game win streak is by definition a momentous occasion, whether by David or another Goliath. You're 0-for-2, sir.

Something else this game lacked was, surprisingly, great plays. Not necessarily feats of athletic brilliance, for there were plenty of those, but rather those classic moments that live on in eternal lore. Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass. The Cal ball-carrier crashing into the Stanford tuba player. Boise State's hook-and-ladder and Statue of Liberty to beat Oklahoma. Woody Hayes punching a Clemson Tiger in the face. The list goes on.

This is college football, so we can go to the booth to review. Judge for yourself:

Dear God, Guidry. What else could you possibly want? 0-for-3. Hell, you lose two points for this argument. You're 0-for-4.

The best "moment" the '06 Rose Bowl had to offer was Young galloping untouched into the end zone for the game-winning TD. And since the Trojans were apparently in their "Prevent" package on that play, Young's score resembled a leisurely stroll down a fairway instead of the crowning moment of a titanic struggle.

This is a very clever rhetorical device, Phil, but I can be lame, too: "Not so fast my friend!" (Get it? lolz)

Guidry's left out the following facts which are more than a little relevant to the context of the only memorable air-quote moment cited:

  1. There were 23 seconds left.
  2. It was 4th down and 5.
  3. Texas trailed 38-26 with 6 minutes to play.

Seriously, it was a moment from a Friday Night Lights script--beyond dramatic and so improbable it almost seemed too surreal even for fiction. Not only that, but the suggestion that USC was playing prevent defense is just... wow. Disingenuous is a charitable way to put it. Everyone in the stadium knew Vince was going to run it. That the Trojans still couldn't get to him is part of what makes it such an unbelievable moment. You're 0-for-6, losing one point for ignoring context and another point for the inane 'prevent' comment.

Guidry moves on to some other candidates for best game:

So which game was better? That depends on what you look for in a great game. While Boston College's 47-45 win over Miami was equally defenseless, it did have one of the most miraculous finishes ever, not to mention Heisman implications and a pair of QBs who went on to have (what appear to be) far superior NFL careers to Young and Leinart (Bernie Kosar and Doug Flutie (of "Flutie Flakes" fame)...

Then there's Miami's 31-30 upset of Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, which not only gave us one of the ballsiest calls ever (good for you, "Two-Point" Tom Osborne), but also ushered in the sport's "Miami Era" (for better or worse)...

Old people who remember the 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma game call that one the best ever. Boise State's crazy trickeration to beat the Sooners also merits mention, as does the colossal 1993 showdown between supposedly unbeatable Florida State and the last relevant Notre Dame team. For sheer lunacy, it's tough to beat the final three minutes of the 1982 Cal-Stanford clash. In addition to the wildest finish in the sport's history, that game also featured John Elway (a better player than anyone in the '06 Rose Bowl) and a Stanford kicker who, after appearing to ice the game with a field goal, pulled out his invisible six-shooter and "fanned the hammer" toward the Cal sideline.

Now, to be fair, I think a case could be made for another game being the best in history, but corn blight is exactly right: you have to build one of them up, not tear the Rose Bowl '06 down. Responses to Guidry's arguments, taken in order:

Miami-Boston College: (1) If you have to cite Bernie Kosar and Doug Flutie's NFL careers to support an argument, you lose the argument. (2) If you have to cite Heisman implications to support an argument, you lose the argument. (3) You cite too many 'mistakes' in the Rose Bowl (see below) as an argument against its greatness. Could there be any blunder bigger than allowing a Hail Freaking Mary to succeed? You lose. On all three counts.

Miami-Nebraska: A case could be made for this game. Citing the "ushering" in of the Miami era more than fails to make it.

Nebraska-Oklahoma: Phil. You should have been more sly, because you totally gave away that you've never seen this game. Do not cite a game you have not watched. Old people will tell you anything from the old days is better. They're old. That's how it works.

Florida State-Notre Dame: This game gets points because FSU seemed unbeatable? Didn't you just say... Uh-huh.

Boise State-Oklahoma: This one could win an award for 'Best Finish to a Game' but let's get a grip on reality: the stakes were a bag of tortilla chips.

Cal-Stanford: (1) I thought the sheer lunacy of Nevada-Hawaii games was a turn off, Phil! (2) Did you really just cite sheer lunacy? (3) John Elway's greatness as a pro is beyond irrelevant, unless we want to start bringing old Oklahoma State games into the mix because of Barry Sanders. (We do not, Phil. Back away from the typewriter.)

You lose six more points, sir. You're 0-for-12.

And since he's been a part of calling some of the greatest games ever, where does legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson weigh in? He doesn't consider the '06 Rose Bowl truly great because there were too many mistakes, both on the field and in the replay booth. For his money, the 1967 game between No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 USC was the best ever. That one featured O.J. Simpson racing 64 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. And then Simpson was never heard from again.

Honestly, the only thing that wasn't great about the 2006 Rose Bowl was the announcing--and I say that as an enormous fan of Keith Jackson in his prime. But he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt during the '06 Rose Bowl that his best good years were long gone. That game moved far, far too fast for Jackson and Fouts, who were wholly unprepared for... well, the greatest damn game the rest of us have ever seen. All together now: 0-for-13.

Yes, the 2006 Rose is great and it did deny USC an unprecedented third straight national title, but as still-foaming at the mouth LSU fans will tell you, the Trojans were only working on their second straight anyway. So, was it the best game ever? To quote college football analyst Mel Brooks, "Not so fast my friend."

That's all for this week. Remember: Just because college football fans think it's true, doesn't mean it is.

Got a myth you want us to bust? Contact Phil at mythbusters.sportsillustrated@gmail.com.

Quoted in full so we can give you a full two touchdowns of dumb--0-for-14!--this time for citing flaws in the 2004 BCS scenario as evidence that the 2006 Rose Bowl wasn't the best ever.

So what did we learn today? We learned that Phil Guidry might be lacking for column ideas, if this is the best he can do. And even if the topic is open for debate (which I'm fine with), we definitely learned that Guidry isn't any good at constructing arguments. Taking this apart was like shooting fish in a barrel, which... hey, that reminds me...

If you're gonna do this thing, Phil, learn how it's actually done:

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