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Huddle Up

Never Mind The Wildcats -- The NFL Season Is Set To Kick Off.

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THE SAME NIGHT as the Penn State debacle, Nick at Nite showed the classic WKRP In Cincinnati episode with turkeys being thrown from a helicopter and "landing like wet bags of cement." I thought of Dick Tomey when station owner Arthur Carlson said, "I swear to God I thought turkeys could fly."

I've seen stunt doubles in Jean-Claude Van Damme movies that didn't take that bad a whuppin'. Apparently, when the Cats took the charter flight to Pennsylvania, their luggage made it there okay, but their intensity got rerouted to Wichita or some darn place.

By the fourth quarter, Penn State was playing with guys that Joe Paterno knows only as "You...yeah...get in there." It obviously could have been much worse than it was, and even against the scrubs, the Cats couldn't score until the last minute of the game.

But that's no big deal. It's only one game. Now everybody can stop talking about that national championship nonsense and start concentrating on the really important Rose Bowl race. Who wants to get wrapped up in all that political stuff surrounding the Bowl Championship Series selection process, anyway?

We want a Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth and thank God for Joe Paterno's willingness to help us stay focused in that endeavor.

Anyway, the really big news in football this week is the opening of the National Football League season. It's starting a week later this year than it usually does. Labor Day weekend is the traditional starting point for the NFL, but they've pushed it back so that the playoffs won't start until January.

That's nothing compared to what's coming. When the next negotiating period comes up, watch for the NFL to start late in September, take a break during the holidays, then have the big playoff games during the sweep month of February. That way the TV money will grow, ratings will skyrocket and football will finish up right before the start of March Madness.

It's not a bad deal, really. College football can have the sports audience all to itself for a month and during the crowded Bowl week, then the NFL can build its late-regular-season drama through what is normally a rather dull January. With the playoffs on prime-time in February, it should be killer.

But that's a couple years away. In the meantime, we'll just have to muddle through with the same old stuff. Too much parity, too many steroids, not enough good quarterbacks.

Other things to be afraid of this NFL season:

· The two most frightening words in the English language are "Fantasy Football." If anybody says one or both of those words, turn and run. Don't look back. They may be chasing you with a sign-up form and a laptop computer.

Fantasy Football is the work of the devil. Gone are the days when overweight men would plop in front of their TV sets for a full day of eating, drinking, burping, and rooting for their favorite team(s). This is what held the fabric of America together. Heck, they didn't even cancel the games after JFK got killed, what with that pernicious threat of Communism.

But now guys don't root for their teams. Each guy has a Fantasy roster consisting of players from teams all over the league. They want the fullback from one team to do well, but they need the punter from the other team to have a great day. They don't live and die with the fortunes of their hometown teams; they scream for the backup quarterback from Tampa Bay to raise his passing percentage so they can move ahead of Sid in Accounting in the overall computerized standings.

The odd thing is that most of them don't even watch the games; that would require their averting their eyes from the computer screens. And it's not like the old Al Bundy kind of fan, the one who scored four touchdowns for Polk High. These are guys whose favorite sports highlight came when Microsoft beat Apple with Windows '95.

They take up precious space in the USA Today sports page, they clog the phone lines with e-mail about a player's ingrown toenail, and they have brought American productivity down to an all-time low by spending 7 hours and 26 minutes of every eight-hour work day on-line trying to earn back the 50 bucks they threw in the pot at the start of the season.

Now, the ultimate indignity -- they have their own magazines. Lots of them. They take up entire shelves at the Circle K, crowding out all the low rider mags with the scantily clad Hispanic hoochies on the covers. Can you imagine subscribing to a Fantasy Football magazine? These things are probably outdated the second the ink is dry.

· After their stunning run to the playoffs last year (culminated by a win at Dallas in the first round), the Phoenix Cardinals are starting to gain acceptance in some parts of Arizona. Some people are even walking around wearing Cardinals shirts without it being part of an initiation or a condition for the work-release.

Big mistake. The Cards may have made a splash last year, but this year, they submerge. A whole lot depends on the scheduling. Last year Phoenix had one of the easiest schedules in the league determined by their horrible record the previous year. But now that they've made the playoffs, their schedule has been raised several notches in difficulty. It looks like 8-8 might be the best they can do. Of course, in the horrendous NFC East, that might be good enough for first in that sorry division.

My picks? Who cares which teams I pick? I don't even care. Heck, I picked the UA over Penn State. The only things I'm going to pick from now on are noses and wedgies. Preferably my own.

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