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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Monday, August 14, 2006

The following is an exclusive presentation...

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In honor of the impending kickoff to the 2006 season, SMQ resolves over the next three weeks to share a few of the personal moments that have most fueled and reinforced his irreversible affection and obsession for the apparent foolishness that comprises the game. Appropriately, all recollections are heavily distorted, sentimentalized and not to be trusted in any way.

1993-2005: Jefferson Pilot Sports is proud to present: Relentless Mediocrity
Already, requiems, paeans and eulogies are rolling in for Jefferson Pilot Sports, the exclusively Southern Saturday ritual for bottom-tier SEC and (apparently, at least occasionally in the Carolinas and maybe Virginia) ACC football that served as one of the final, charmingly inept bastions of unrepentant regionalism in big-time college football's nearly complete "globalization." Lincoln Financial Sports, as the newfangled production will be known, is going retain the unlikely triumverate of Dave Neal, Dave Rowe and Dave Baker, but presumably not the very, very un-HD production values, nor the sponsorship strategy that - after broadcasting a dozen games into SMQ's home every year for well over a decade - failed to embed in his consciousness what business, exactly, Jefferson Pilot is in.

Perpetually transporting viewers to the halcyon days of Pat Dye-Billy Brewer showdowns with reliably old school graphics, two-quarters-behind score updates (usually of games viewers were watching simultaneously two channels up, with the correct score) and a total, willfull ignorance of the national landscape, a continence that considered Arkansas 'far west' and Kentucky 'north' (them hoss-racin' bluebloods waren't e'en in the Confed'racy!). Certainly these broadcasts ate up the lion's share of the budget for potato chip advertising - calling the audible for Golden Flake at your next tailgate, football fans, or y'all some-a them faincy' Lay's munchers?

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Golden Flake: Like Mississippi State's secondary, JP viewers prefer 'em thin 'n crispy. Or barbecued, whatever your snarky rhetorical preference.

Seemingly everybody in the league got on in at least one time-killer a year, but a few always-terrible games involving Vanderbilt and Kentucky were JP locks: Kentucky was eternally trudging uphill against Florida and Tennessee, and then either Georgia or LSU in between; Vandy got some 'these guys got a lotta heart' love in annual defeats to Alabama, Tennessee, sometimes Florida or Georgia and, most memorably, Ole Miss.

The Rebels got the longest straw from the West Division's hand by drawing Vanderbilt as its annual opponent from the East (the other locked-in matchups are Florida-LSU, Georgia-Auburn, Alabama-Tennessee, Mississippi State-Kentucky and Arkansas-South Carolina), always in the first couple weeks of the season, and SMQ does not recall ever watching more than a play or two at a time during the first half of any of those games. By the fourth quarter, though, the Big Ten's JP equivalent having gone to hell on ESPN2 (SMQ will put Dave, Dave and Dave up against a Pam Ward or Mark Jones-led team any day) and the 2:30 marquee games on ABC and CBS just entering extended pregame montage mode, it was always "hang on to your hats, look what we have here!" time in Nashville/Oxford, where the riveting and inevtiable prelude to the equally inevitable Commodore collapse was reaching its crescendo.

Year after year, upstart Vandy took it to Ole Miss for about 56 minutes, and year after year, Vandy lost in the end. This is straight gut reminiscence and therefore definitely wrong in nine details out of ten, but SMQ swears Dan Stricker caught at least 53 balls in three games against Ole Miss as he, Greg Zolman and a random undersized running back set career highs en route to a four to twelve-point lead in the final frame. Jay Cutler'd always be running up and down the field, looking like a slow Matt Jones. And then, splat: Ole Miss beat Vandy on last second field goals, the untimeliest of turnovers, excruciating drives featuring at least two fourth down conversions, you name it. A couple years ago, Vandy had a long, probably icing touchdown called back because a receiver lined up offsides, then blew a two-touchdown advantage and lost by three or four. And so on.

It was necessary that these games happened in the beginning of the year, before Vandy resigned itself to the cellar again and packed it in. Early on, any given year could still be different, and this optimism was usually why they also consistently played (and still play) Alabama tough within the first few weeks of the year without ever registering a win. Watch the Commodores a month later, though, and Georgia or Florida's spanking them like they came from the Sun Belt, or the Big West before it.

All JP matchups looked bad going in, but who was there in 1994 to broadcast Auburn intercepting Jamie Howard 23 times in the fourth quarter for a stunning comeback win, Frank Sanders' trampoline touchdown catch to beat top-ranked Florida, or bottom-dweller LSU roughing up heavyweight Alabama against every shred of logic? Who gave the world rain-soaked Billy Jack Haskins' immortal touchdown run in Kentucky's near-upset of Tennessee in the mid-nineties? LSU's hail mary to crush the scrappy Wildcats' will to exist in 2002, a multiple "oh my god" moment and the only game (due to the premature Gatorade dump on Guy Morriss and the devastated expression of one particular tie-sporting Kentucky student who had jubilantly rushed the field in the middle of the final play) that has ever led to SMQ rushing into another room and pounding on the carpet in delirium? Hines Ward, quarterback? Jared Lorenzen, Matt Jones, Steve Taneyhill and the Booty Brothers in general? When Sidney Rice wins the first ever Olympic gold for high jump figure receiving in 2012, remember it was Jefferson Pilot Sports that first brought you his jaw-dropping acrobatics against Arkansas and Florida last year.

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"Oh my god"

There is a chance Lincoln Financial fills the bill, and does not ruin the football equivalent of Hee Haw; i.e., it keeps the kickoff at an awkward but dependable 11:30 a.m. Central Time, never introduces a game or segment with or in any other way utilizes any kind of music one could conceivably hear on any radio station anywhere (especially rap or hip hop), allows Dave Rowe to continue to refer to himself self-effacingly as "an old lineman" or some variation a minimum of once per possession and refrains from upgrading camera technology when duct tape's been holding the lens onto the frame just fine for years. Otherwise, RIP JP. RIP.

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8:08 AM

JP's ACC coverage is/was not completely horrible. They actually had decent announcers.
I remember being stuck in Kentucky and being subjected to JP's relentless trumping of any good non-regional game. I guess its demise saves all other transplants as well.
I've spent many a sunny Saturday morning sitting on a lawn chair outside Tiger Stadium, drinking myself ready and getting the rabbit ears just right to catch one of those Kentucky-Vandy matchups. Nothing signals the start of a nice tailgate quite like a stubbornly substandard broadcast of a mediocre SEC game. It's like being so hungry, you want to get an appetizer, but the only choice is fried cheese sticks. If you're hungry enough, anything tastes good.
I always loved the JP games despite their obvious flaws, and I remember watching Vandy top the Rebs last year, and I vividly remember the slugfest that was UM/UA from last year. Good times...
Nice piece, but the Frank Sanders '94 catch against Florida was on ABC. Trust me, I can hear Mushberger's call in my head even as I type.

JP won't be missed; sadly, we're still stuck with the Three Idiots Named Dave and the bane of all our existance, the 1130AM kickoff (although it's Ted Turner who'll burn in hell for inventing that one; TBS had the SEC's third-place contract before even JP).
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And don't let the name fool ya - second guessing the phenomenal athletic feats and split-second decisions of college kids under extreme physical duress is for every day of the week.

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