I’d really like to have a sit-down with Beergut and have a talk about the "The Stoned Ape Theory of Evolution" and its relevance to this conference realignment madness. Deloss and Powers probably should be there too. And that Byrne guy. As well as Delaney and Scott. And Kirk Herbstreit should make an appearance as the representative for the frickin Starship Deathstar. And since I’m a K-State guy, Ricky Williams and Sirr Parker should be there too; Williams, because he’d more than likely be able to bring the best Sinsemilia bud available in the lower 48; and Sir Parker - well - just so I could personally curse at him for throwing the biggest dagger ever into the heart of this 56 year-old KSU fan. Gene Stallings should be there, and Lady Gaga (no - on second thought, that’s a bridge too far - scratch the Gaga).
Because this conversation would involve the memory of this Kansas kid and the big-ol’ state of Texas, the old Big-8, the old Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 and its relation to this feud between Longhorn and Aggie. I had hope I could find and invite Cassie who, in June of 1972 , was the prettiest, long-legged Kilgore Rangerette that a seventeen year old kid could imagine. I have hope that she has aged gracefully. I’d really like to meet her again, these 39 years later. Some unfinished business, shall we say?
But I realized I wouldn’t - no couldn’t - get all these important folk into the same room for a chit-chat; I’m just a fan from K-State, a "small market team" that "brings nothing to the table" when it comes to TV markets. But I really wanted to have this conversation, whether Herbsteit, Deloss, Beergut, et. al., were in on it or not.
So, I conjured a plan .....
In 1992, after my second child was born, I decided some changes had to be made. Time to get serious. I probably should have destroyed it, but, but ... I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. So I put it in a hermetically sealed box ... hidden away, but not really forgotten. The psilocybin, I mean. The magic mushrooms, for the chemically challenged. I was confident the active ingredient would still work its magic. So I swallowed a fistful. From my basement I dragged out the bean bags, black light, and the Ouija board. I placed two fifths of Wild Turkey on the coffee table, and got my best bourbon glasses out of the hutch, and then I got out the ice holder - with lots of ice. I was, after all, expecting a crowd. I started with a quick gulp of three jiggers of iced Wild Turkey - I wanted to - no needed to - get a little bit ahead of the mushrooms.
I knew it was important that Cassie show up first, and she did. You see, on the night of my high school graduation, my best friend and I, after appearing at one last high school kegger, piled into my old 1968 VW bug and headed for Padre Island. I’d never been to Texas. We had fun at the beach for a couple of days and then headed for Tyler, TX., where his uncle lived. And Tyler is just a few miles from Kilgore, TX., home of the world famous Kilgore Rangerettes, an all-female drill team, which had performed at the half time of every Cotton Bowl I had ever watched. Texas beauties. Southern Belles. Long legs. Great hair. A high school boy’s (wet) dream. And somehow I met Cassie. And my friend met Jolene. And they took us swimming at a backyard (very private) pool.
She had aged gracefully. (Damn, I thought, I forgot to take the blue pill!). I offered her some Wild Turkey; she accepted. In no mood for small talk, I cut to the chase.
"So Cassie, you do remember - both you and Jolene - grabbing your left ankles with your left hands, and extending your legs - your toes even – straight toward the sky - in your bikinis?" I asked.
"Of course I remember. You guys couldn’t believe we could do stand-up splits, like we did at half-time of the Cotton Bowl. We wanted to show you we could do it in June, as well as on New Year’s Day. How is your friend doing? He had the best nickname," she said, with a sly grin.
"You remember his nickname?" I said, incredulously.
"Of course. Boner. What a nickname - the best!"
"Well, if you remember that, do you remember the tan..."
And she interrupted me.
"Of course I remember the tanline deal. We were in about four feet of water. You were standing right next to me. Close. I said ‘Do you want to see my tanlines?’ And I pulled my bikini bottom out - and down - revealing, not only my tan line, but a good two inches of the top line of my pubic hair - since women still had pubic hair back then," she said, with an even bigger grin on her face.
"You do know what you were doing to me, don’t you?" I asked.
"I knew exactly what I was doing. It was all right there for you. But you were young, we were two years older, and Jolene and I - well, we were from Texas."
And then Beergut shows up. Beergut is this guy who blogs regularly for I Am the 12th Man. He wants aTm to go to the SEC. He thinks it is unfair that, because of the Longhorn Network, UT will get more money than ... well, I haven’t figured his position out, because he apparently didn’t think it unfair last year that aTm demand a $20 million dollar guarantee in order to stay in the conference - a guarantee not extended to any other conference school.
"So Beergut, meet Cassie," I said. "She’s a former Kilgore Rangerette." No noticeable reaction from Beergut. This worried me. He's a Texas guy. Surely he's heard of the Rangerettes.
I poured some Wild Turkey over some ice, offered it to Beergut.
"You got any beer?" he asked.
"No. This is not a meeting suitable for beer," I said. "It’s Wild Turkey, or nothing. Unless of course, you’d like some mushrooms."
"I’ll pass," he said.
I decided to resist delving into all the aTm imagery that raised serious questions about latent ... well, you know. And I resisted the softball putdowns of a guy who, in the age of an obesity epidemic, would voluntarily take on "Beergut" as his internets moniker. So I kept it simple.
"Beergut, I asked you here to pose two simple questions. First, why the resistance to modernity - the all-male cheerleader thing? And second, the midnight yell practice. I mean, I like a little structure in my life too, but come on man, ‘yell practice.’ Isn’t that taking the fealty to authority thing a little too far?"
"We like our traditions." he said.
That’s it. As I knew it would be. In BIG TIME COLLEGE FOOTBALL, tradition is the thing. Or is it?
The rest started filing in. Deloss and Powers (with their administrative assistant, a stenographer, probably); Byrne and Herbie, Delaney and Scott, Ricky Williams and Sirr Parker. The last one to walk in was Gene Stallings, this guy with the Hollywood- central-casting-square- jaw look; the perfect, strong posture. A proud man. A guy who, from afar, I have always admired. He reminded me of my father and uncles who, when I was young, taught me how to work hard while baling hay; who taught me there are only three places for a socket wrench: in your hand while you are using it; right next to you while you are getting ready to use it again; and if not in one of those two places, it goes back into the tool box. In other words, the kind of guy who taught me that there is a right way and a wrong way to do something - including living your life - and that folks will notice, and you will be judged on whether or not you do things the right way. And when Mr. Stallings shook hands with Deloss, this image flashed through my mind - the image of Lady Gaga - which triggered in my jangled mind the notion about "change."
Arthur Schopenhauer said "Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal."
Yea, yea - I get it. The emotionally mature person recognizes that change is constant; he adapts, does not rail against it. Blah, blah, blah. Well, this story is about the "Stoned Ape Theory of Evolution." And it has occurred to me that the essential conceit of the current Zeitgeist as it relates to this accepted wisdom is that all change is directionally moving toward infinity on the old number line, so to speak. Well, pardon me, but this is not what the theory posits, nor is it what history teaches. Change can be regressive as well as evolutionary; it can trundle along in the direction of those negative integers, too.
Which brings us back to Lady Gaga. Enough said. And I just wasn’t going to put a good man like Gene Stallings through a sit-down with Lady Gaga. I really don’t want to meet her myself.
And here they all were - the movers and shakers of this conference re-alignment madness. I was getting ready to start my rant about the insanity of tAm thinking it could improve its lot in life by moving to the SEC; and, yes, the arrogance of UT teaming up with the Deathstar (ESPN - you know, that broadcasting partner for the other nine schools in the Big 12 - no conflict of interest there, right?) to start the Longhorn Network. But then a little elf - he looks like Jerry Garcia - in a tie-dyed t-shirt appears on my left shoulder, and he whispers in my ear: "Relax. Enjoy the mushrooms - the trip - do not get your blood pressure up. Because it’s a done deal."
"A done deal?" I asked.
"Done. It’s not about re-alignment - it’s about consolidation. Furnace, you know these things! Forget logic. Forget tradition - forget all that is Holy! It’s about the money - and power - and the way to make money today is consolidation, cut some folks out of the action," the elf said, and then he quickly disappeared. I am on my own, again.
Consolidation it is - that, and all the silly moaning from the "Death to the BCS Crowd." I mean, let’s face it. What self-respecting mega company will, for much longer, want to be associated with the tarnished brand of the BCS? I mean, in 2011 the BCS paid out $174 million and 83.4% ($145 million) of that went to the six automatic qualifying conferences. TCU, which had the temerity to crash the party, got $24.7 million which was split between five "minor" conferences. And big corporations aren’t going to continue paying that kind of jack for the now universally reviled BCS. A playoff? You want a playoff? Okay, the big boys have decided, this is how it’s going to work: Four, sixteen-team super conferences. Two divisions for each conference. Eight teams. Conference championship game is the first round. Decided on the field. So all you folks who railed and bitched about the unfairness of the BCS system, fine. Screw you, here’s your playoff! They will put a different name on it – "re-brand" it. Maybe they won’t even have the gall to call the winner the "National Champion." But the media will, and the rest of us will just have to get used to it.
Ricky is rolling a spliff. I wanted him to hurry and finish it up, because all these weird, jangled thoughts kept bouncing around on the inside of my cranium. You know, that weird conclusion I’ve come to after 56 years on this good earth which says that if a reasonably intelligent person intentionally does act A, knowing – and this is the important part – I mean really, really, knowing that B will be the result of his doing act A, does that person intend result B?
Should I articulate these thoughts? In front of Powers and Deloss; Delaney and Scott; Herbie – these masters of the universe? Because it occurred to me that Deloss and Powers and the guys at ESPN knew – and I mean really, really knew, that when UT and ESPN announced their $300 million deal; that when ESPN and UT announced an intention to air – get this – Texas high school football games on TLN, that this would indeed be a bridge too far for any self- respecting Aggie. I mean, listening to the constant propaganda spewed by the Deathstar is hard for me, a K-Stater, to take. But if I’m an Aggie, and ESPN is constantly promoting Longhorn, and I might have to pay my cable bill knowing that I’m sending 70 cents a month to my hated rival to boot, well – that’s it. It’s over. And for this, I don’t really blame Aggie. I looked at Gene Stallings – a proud and decent man, and words from Dylan Thomas came to mind:
"Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; ... Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
I understand. Aggie has to move on.
I looked at Deloss and Powers, both intelligent men, and I thought about that construct regarding act A bringing about result B. I thought about asking them, why? But the words of the elf rang true – why bother – it’s a done deal. College football today, as it has been for many years, is a big, big metaphor for life in these vast and sprawling United States of America. But I did take a long, hard look at Deloss Dodds, a man who grew up in Riley, Kansas just 18 miles from my hometown of Manhattan. I attended his track camp in 1965. He taught me how to run hurdles on the old cinder track at Memorial Stadium. He is a man I have always admired, and still do, even with all this re-alignment madness. But I didn’t ask why.
Instead, I said, "Folks, thanks for showing up. Hope you enjoyed the Wild Turkey. But I have only one thing to say. The greatest teacher of them all reminded us that ‘By their fruits shall ye know them, not by their roots.’" (Matthew 7:16) And I escorted the masters of the universe to the door.
I asked Cassie to stay behind. The unfinished business, I thought. And then I thought again, and I said to Cassie:
"Cassie, the memories of some things are just so right, so pure, that they should not be disturbed. And that tan line thing in the pool – well – it’s one of my favorite memories. I remember it to this day. Acting on it now would jangle things up a little too much. I was young and innocent then, and you were a Rangerette. And you will always be the one I let get away. And it should probably stay that way."