Air force won
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Hang around The Cooler long enough, and you never know what you'll find.

I mean, besides dartboards of your boss, and Polaroids from the office holiday bender.

Terrell Owens, Jeff Garcia
The Cooler boiled over when T.O. and Jeff took over.
So it was that I was pounding Sparkletts like it was Irish whiskey this morning, when it dawned on me that now, right now, December 2002, is not such a bad NFL time to live in, after all.

This is not an insignificant revelation. For the past five years, The Cooler has howled to the parity moon that the glorious NFL of my youth was as extinct as the network sitcom, as irrelevant as today's snail mail.

But something struck me on Sunday. Perhaps it was the thrill of the chase in the view from the Texas Stadium press box as Garcia-to-Owens took on new dimensions. Perhaps it was the endless stream of NFL highlights on a wall of TVs in that same NFL press box. Perhaps it was the free-flowing beer taps at that same Texas Stadium press box -- and really, I'm quite impressed that Jerry Jones throws down for the high-quality Pyramid Hefeweizen spigot -- compounded by the endless streams of wine at the expense-account dinner afterwards.

All I'm saying is this: The quarterback position is alive, when it was previously thought as dead as Bill Maher's career. (That is, until the distressing news that HBO, the cable network of champions, suffered a lapse in judgment and inked this cat to a series deal.)

Anyway. Alert the authorities. Wake the kids. Tell the neighbors.

About the disheartening news regarding Bill Maher's career, I mean.

But seriously, folks: I'm fresh off of Jeff Garcia's sorcery in leading two TD drives in the final six minutes to win. I'm fresh off of checking out Rich Gannon throw for 300 yards as if he were playing Nerf football in my neighborhood. I'm fresh off of watching my Favorite Player Ever, Brett Favre, do it again at Lambeau.

I'm fresh off of watching Michael Vick's big showdown in Tampa, and Drew Bledsoe's big homecoming in New England.

Yeah, so Vick got pounded like he defaulted on a Tampa mob loan.

Yeah, so Bledsoe's homecoming worked out like Christopher Moltisanti's intervention.

Point is, there are some true studs at the QB position these days. Guys worth watching. Guys worth caring about. Guys whose jersey, if you gave to your kid at Christmas, he could wear with pride.

Tom Brady
Brady -- the next Broadway Joe?
Guys who, when your kid is 15 years older and an habitue at his local tavern, he can pop off by remembering: "Hey, when I was growing up ...

"... Tom Brady won us a Super Bowl -- AND he looked like Matt Dillon!"

"... Brett Favre won us a Super Bowl -- AND he made fart jokes like an extra from 'American Pie!' "

"... Kurt Warner won us a Super Bowl -- AND his wife had a haircut like Spiro Agnew!"

Yes, Jon Kitna draws a paycheck. So does Rodney Peete. And Jeff Blake. I understand. Stiffs from Central Casting still roam the NFL landscape. But it has always been thus. Growing up with the 49ers, it was Scott Bull and Steve DeBerg before it was Joe. And Raiders fans had to pay penance for Kenny Stabler by enduring Marc Wilson and his merry band of fools.

I'm just saying. To paraphrase Brad Hamilton's admonition to Spicoli and friends upon entering All-American Burger without their shirts on -- The NFL is filled with some pretty sweet quarterbacks these days. Don't ignore it.

Learn it.

Know it.

Live it.

On, then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. The Fiesta Bowl:

I'm in Miami and Ohio State will play, and I'm delighted.

Screw anyone who diminishes either team. Screw anyone who thinks Miami "snuck by" some teams in close games. Screw anyone who dismisses Ohio State for going 13-0 because it wasn't pretty.

Willis McGahee
Nothing about McGahee is soft.
Hey, I got your pretty -- right here, pal.

Thirteen-and-oh is pretty.

It's hard. It takes luck. It takes stones. It takes heart.

Trust me: My alma mater has never sniffed 13-and-oh. It has sniffed 10-and-oh, and then been rebuffed, cruelly, in Miami. Later, it would be folded, spindled and mutilated by Wisconsin, and my alma mater wound up 10-and-2. Ten-and-two is a hell of a mark. It's no 13-and-oh, but what is?

So Miami has now won, what, 34 in a row? This is remarkable, especially since the team plays in the Orange Bowl, a stadium that seems incapable of fostering modern football excellence. I keep expecting Miami to give it to Larry Csonka on third-and-short, or for the CBS cameras to cut away to Don Shula on the sidelines, plotting a deep pass to Mercury Morris and franchised steakhouses all over South Florida -- on the same piece of scratch paper!

As for Ohio State -- the Buckeye Nation has not been so overcome with emotion since John Glenn orbited this little pill we call home and parlayed it into a cushy Senate seat. My boy Big Al, who was delighted at his first mention in The Cooler, earned a second mention by revealing to me at an office function that he had tears streaming down his face as Ohio State closed out Michigan. He said he was splayed in front of the TV set, ignoring his lovely wife and two young children, including a newborn, to fixate on the final moments from Columbus.

And this cat went to Rutgers.

There's something kooky about Ohio natives and Ohio State.

And there's something epic about the University of Miami football, even though I maintain it hasn't been the same since Howard Schnellenberger packed up his pipe and left.

Tempe, brace yourself. The best college football party in the country is coming your way.

2. As for the other bowls ...

Can we just rename the Rose Bowl the "Grapes of Wrath" Bowl? Will it be "The Rose Bowl, presented by FTD and by the John Steinbeck Estate"?

Quintin Griffin
What's so rosy about the Sooners this season?
Oklahoma ... in the Rose Bowl? It's hard enough knowing UCLA will be nowhere near its home stadium without knowing that the descendents of Tom Joad will be recreating the 1930s in their drive west, and roaming our sacred turf. Model-Ts on Brookside Golf Course!

Wherever there's a third-and-1 needing to be converted -- I'll be there. Wherever there's a goal-line stand to be made -- I'll be there. Wherever there's a free tailgate in the Rose Bowl parking lot -- I'll be there.

That is, of course, making it sound as if Washington State is from the Paris of the Pac-10. I love the Cougs -- always my second-favorite Pac-10 team after a particularly satisfying two years on the beer with the boys from Wazzu at the ancient "Boardwalk and Baseball Super Bowl of Sports Trivia'' in 1988-89 -- but really, it's Wheat vs. Dust this year.

Meanwhile, USC and Iowa have to go to Miami.

Now that sounds like a perfect mess. Those are Rose Bowl teams.

In a normal world, Iowa arrives in Pasadena, its fans roam the streets in black and yellow, disappointed that nobody walks in L.A., they play the game, we root for Iowa, they go home.


It's a changed world, and this old man isn't sure he gets it.

3. A quick word on the New York Times

This may jeopardize my chances of ever working for the Old Gray Lady -- well, this, and a stunning lack of (a) maturity and (b) talent -- but it's time for an Official Cooler Rebuke of the N.Y. censorship that went down last week. I speak as regards Dave Anderson's and Harvey Araton's columns on Augusta National, and the Times' refusal to run them, because their opinions may have run contrary to the editorial board's opinion.

I speak as a fellow columnist.

This terrifies me: What sort of precedent is this?

If the boys in Bristol got word of this, they'd be spiking Cooler columns like kids in the '50s spiked punch bowls at high school dances.

I say: Freedom of expression! Let us columnists be as off-base as we want to be, as long as we file on time!

(Editor's Note: This does not apply to Mssrs. Anderson or Araton, who are blessed with (a) maturity and (b) talent.)

4. Silly Season? Says who?
Tiger Woods
Tiger has other things to worry about, like which in-season tournaments he will skip.
Hey, I thought the golf season was, like, over a few months ago. Now we've got these incredible fields with incredible purses and network coverage and ... am I going silly, or are these Silly Season events -- like Tiger's Target World Challenge this weekend -- taking on the feel of quasi-majors?

Tiger has now played four events in the last four weeks -- in Japan, Hawaii and two in Southern California. During the regular season, he never plays four weeks in a row.

So here's the deal: Regular season, no Tiger four weeks in a row.

Silly Season: Tiger, four weeks in a row.

I ask you, which is the Silly Season?

By the way, The Cooler welcomes caddies like no others around here. Caddies are the court jesters of sports -- the wise, Shakespearean fools who disguise their pearls in wit. We were reminded of that when Padraig Harrington's caddie watched his man hole out from the fairway for an eagle on a par-5 Saturday. He watched his man bury another eagle putt. He then watched his man nearly jar an iron from waaaaay out -- it hit off the flagstick and stopped inches from the cup -- that would have been a 2 on a par-5.

Said Harrington's caddie, loud enough for the Associated Press to hear: "What's a guy gotta do to get an albatross around here?"

I love caddies.

5. Finally, we end with sincerity

It strikes me, upon reading the lead item, that The Cooler is unusually conciliatory today, so why not keep the theme? Happened to notice that Casey Martin is back vying for his Tour card.

Now, you can think what you want of the decision for Martin to get a cart on Tour -- and believe me, there are plenty of reasonable arguments that say he should not -- but the sight of his name at Q-School, trying again, struck something deep inside.

Casey Martin
Love him or hate him -- you can never question Martin's heart.
If the essence of the game is to honor it with your effort; if the essence of the game is to accept the ill fates and play on; if the essence of life is to strive for the best in yourself, despite your limitations, this kid is looking Tiger-esque.

Life gave Casey Martin lemons, and he said, in response:

Screw lemonade, I'm trying to make birdies instead.

He goes for it today, in the sixth and final round at Q-School.

The Cooler is a warm and friendly place today. We're rooting for him. Why not?

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



Brian Murphy Archive

Murphy: Whoa, Nellie!

Murphy: Learning to be a hater

Murphy: The Cooler's terrible twos

Murphy: Getting personal

Murphy: All my rowdy friends ...

Murphy: Another Giant disappointment

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