, Port Arthur, Texas

December 6, 2012

Best of West: Ducking Miami key for Lou Holtz, Irish finishing No. 1

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Jan. 4, 1989.

      Based on the final poll, which unfortunately is the way college

football determines its national champion — make that mythical national

champion — Notre Dame reigns today as No. 1.  Certainly no surprise


     We all knew the Fighting Irish would end up on top from the day they

designated overrated, overmatched West Virginia as their bowl-day patsy. 

The outcome of the Fiesta Bowl offered about as much suspense as a foot

race between Florence Griffith-Joyner and Tommy Lasorda.

     What the final polls don't tell us is whether Notre Dame is actually

the nation's best team.  That's a subject even more open to debate now

than it was before the bowls.

     Miami strengthened its case by literally stuffing a Nebraska team

that's a legitimate football power.  The Cornhuskers lose from time to

time, but they never get overwhelmed like they did Monday night.

     Notre Dame, meanwhile, basically proved one thing.  Namely that

those of us who've been saying all along West Virginia was out of its

league were right.  Truth is, the Mountaineers didn't have enough quality

athletes to be on the field with a Notre Dame, a Miami or half dozen

other top 10 teams.

     So who is really better -- Notre Dame or Miami?  Actually, I'm not

sure, and I don't think anybody who'll give an honest answer is either. 

My thoughts, which have been well documented over the last couple of

months, are that Miami's the best.  But I wouldn't bet my next paycheck

they'd beat Notre Dame if the two played again.

     And there's the rub.  Notre Dame and Miami are clearly the two best

teams in college football.  The difference between the two teams on Oct.

15 was one point at South Bend.  Since then both have been near

invincible.  They should have played again in the Fiesta Bowl.

     What Notre Dame did by dodging Miami was deprive football fans

everywhere of a game that would have been the most talked about in the

history of the collegiate game.  A Notre Dame-Miami Fiesta Bowl would

have made the Super Bowl, any Super Bowl, pale by comparison.

     Spare me the rhetoric about rematches not being desirable, or about

the Fiesta Bowl preferring to have West Virginia.  The Fiesta Bowl wanted

whatever Notre Dame wanted.

     If Lou Holtz had said he wanted to play

Lamar, the Cardinals would have been the first 3-8 team in history to

play in a major bowl.

     Rematches happen all the time.  Both NFL conference championship

games this Sunday are rematches.  Oklahoma's basketball team lost the

NCAA championship game to Kansas last year, after defeating the Jayhawks

twice in the regular season.

     The bottom line is that Holtz knew he was fortunate to edge Miami in

October, knew the Hurricanes wouldn't turn the ball over seven times if

they played again, knew that Notre Dame, because it's Notre Dame, could

get away with playing a lesser foe.  And that's exactly what he did.

     It's also why I stuck to my guns about voting Miami No. 1 in the

final poll.  I still believe a true champion refuses to take the easy way

out, doesn't duck the best opponent available.

    A true champion does what Miami coach Jimmy Johnson did at the end in South Bend. Knowing that a pretty much automatic kick would have resulted in a 31-31 tie, he opted to go for two and the victory. When the Hurricanes failed, he gave Holtz an escape route.

      I'll always believe the Notre Dame coach  feared he couldn't beat Miami again and knew he had a cinch with West Virginia.

     Obviously, I'd have to had to back down if Miami had lost its bowl game to

Nebraska.  But the Hurricanes beat a better team than West Virginia, and

did it at least as convincingly as Notre Dame. 

    So to change my vote now would be

hypocritical, would be to admit that arguments advanced before the bowls

weren't valid.

     It would also be like trying to sell West Virginia as legitimate,

which brings up another sore subject.

     What disappoints me most about all this is the media, the same media

who're always lobbying for a national playoff.  By not speaking out, by

fawning over Notre Dame, by promoting Notre Dame-West Virginia as a

national championship game, the media helped perpetuate a hoax.

     With a couple of notable exceptions, like author Dan Jenkins and New

York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, the national media failed to blow

the whistle on Holtz' little con game.  Instead of questioning the

validity of West Virginia as a legitimate opponent, instead of pointing out

this was like a race between thoroughbreds and donkeys, the media sold

America a bill of goods.

     The simple-minded rationale seemed to be that West Virginia deserved

to play for a national championship because it was 11-0.  And so what if

the Mountaineers got there playing only one ranked ream, so what if

Florida State and Auburn at 10-1 were obviously better?  Not to mention


     If nothing else, the one-sidedness of the Fiesta Bowl provides the

perfect argument to the fallacy of rating a team strictly by its record. 

West Virginia was never in the game, was never a threat.  It got blown

away physically on the line of scrimmage, which is always a telltale sign

when a team is in over its head.

     Rather than a national championship game, what we got was a yawner,

a predictably boring example of what happens when two teams of decisively

different levels of talent and ability play in a big game.  West Virginia

couldn't have seriously challenged Notre Dame, even if Jerry Glanville

had been coaching the Fighting Irish.  Or Gerry Faust.

     It could have been so much better, could have been a national

championship game people talk about years from now.  Instead the Fiesta

Bowl was a game people won't be talking about this time next week.

     Notre Dame is No. 1, but are the Fighting Irish the best?

     Bob West is the Sports Editor of the Port Arthur News