Each Thursday, Art Thiel checks out the weekend sports scene locally and offers more casual sports fans some observations that can get them in and out of conversations without anyone catching on to your, ahem, casualness.
Whether at the water cooler, bus, lunchroom, frat kegger or cocktail party, you can drop in a riposte, bon mot or bit o’ wit to start a conversational conflagration, or put one out. Then walk away.
College football: Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Washington (6-6) vs. Nebraska (9-3), 7 p.m. (ESPN) — Washington fans are so excited about this event there is an epidemic of sprained tails. Nebraska fans are so disappointed that many would rather stay in a Midwest snowstorm than to come to rain-drenched San Diego.
Through the Byzantine world of college-football politics too arcane to explain here, the powers dictated that these teams play again this season despite the fact that the Cornhuskers (yes, that’s the nickname because “Metropolitans” somehow didn’t seem to fit) beat Washington 56-21 on Sept. 18. The game was so one-sided it developed a limp. Washington has zero chance to win the rematch, and Nebraska has zero incentive to play what it views as a consolation opponent from a Hobbit conference (in the same bowl a year ago, they beat Pac-10 entry Arizona 33-0). Nevertheless, the game is set to happen despite national boredom so powerful it can bend light waves.
You can console your Dawg-loving significant other after the inevitable thrashing by saying that you know the teams will be playing AGAIN next September: “I’m sure it will be all right the third time, honey, once they get rid of Jake Locker.”
College basketball: Washington (9-3) at UCLA, (9-4) 1 p.m. (FSN) — The UCLA starting lineup includes these first names: Tyler, Reeves, Malcolm and Lazeric. The university with West Coast’s most prestigious collegiate basketball reputation is now in the hands of guys who sound like they were first-round losers on Food Channel’s “Iron Chef.” You impress those who know the UCLA tradition by saying in a wistful tone, “Whatever happened to Lew and Bill? And for that matter, what happened to short shorts? Hey, I’m even starting to miss corn rows.”
The fifth member of UCLA starting lineup is the blandly named Josh Smith. But the cool thing is that this Kentwood High School grad was probably the best high school player in Washington last year. He lost 30 pounds, grew to 6-foot-10 and now averages 10.3 points and 6.8 rebounds as a freshman starter. So when the Bruins beat Washington by 10 or 15 points, you say, “Right under your nose at Kentwood, Romar. Right under your nose.”
NFL football: St. Louis Rams (7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (6-9) 5:20 p.m. (NBC) — This game was deemed so important that with a week’s notice, the start was moved from 1 p.m. to 5:20 and from Fox to NBC to accommodate its featured, prime-time TV slot. The best explanation is that the match-up has a NASCAR-like appeal in that many people tune in to watch for things flying upside down and backward at high speed.
The Rams actually are the hotter team, having won a game recently. The Seahawks are not hot, having lost seven of their last nine games and forced, because of injury, to play their backup quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst. He appears as ready for the job as Donkey is to play Shrek.
Nevertheless, both teams are in the NFC West, where up is down and yesterday is tomorrow. The division championship is at stake, the winner hosting a playoff game next weekend. The Seahawks could win simply because the odds are so preposterously against them.
In that event, say to those in your company who are gesticulating wildly and spilling beer: “If bad football is so exciting, why does anyone care about good football? Mozart and Shakespeare could never get away with that. Why should Pete Carroll?”
There is no comeback. Go fetch the mop with a smile.