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Before it all ends the rabbit ears may go the way of the fruitcake—out the back door and into the trash—and the fan may fade like a sidewalk Santa in the rain. This is our annual madness known as the collegiate bowl season, a time when there is just about every kind of football game but the Shoplifters vs. the Floorwalkers in the Astro-Bloomingdale Classic. The season began last week with a lot of Camellias and Boardwalks and Pecans for the little folks, and it won't conclude until Jan. 10, after some wandering groups of All-Stars have taken their pass routes to Honolulu, Mobile and Tampa. Happily, among the 24 bowl games there are some important ones to be concerned about, namely those in which the nation's three most prominent teams of the regular season—Texas, Ohio State and Nebraska—defend their honor for a final time against a chimneyful of football lore out of Knute Rockne, John W. Heisman and Huey Long.
That's something to be grateful for. The bowls usually have little more meaning than the one played the other day in Memphis, where Tulane (7-4) upset Colorado (6-4); than those upcoming in Houston, where Oklahoma (7-4) meets Alabama (6-5); in Jacksonville, where Auburn (8-2) meets Ole Miss (7-3); in El Paso, where Georgia Tech (8-3) meets Texas Tech (8-3); in Atlanta, where Arizona State (10-0) meets North Carolina (8-3); and even in New Orleans, where Tennessee (10-1) meets Air Force (9-2). As September games they would have stirred some excitement, but as holiday spectaculars they have about as much bearing on what the 1970 season means as all of those Blue-Grays and East-Wests.
The Cotton, Rose and Orange, in that order on your tube Jan. 1, are where the action is, for these are the games in which the season's dominant forces will come crashing down on each other, where mathematics, tradition, legend and omens are all significant and where the results could have one final roar of influence on the question of who, finally, is No. 1.
In some minds that question has already been answered. The UPI's board of coaches, which always selects on the basis of the regular season, has chosen Texas by a comfortable margin. Darrell Royal's Longhorns also got a piece of another award, the MacArthur Bowl, picked by a committee of the Hall of Fame that has settled on a tie between Texas and Ohio State. So Woody Hayes can celebrate the fifth national championship of his career and Royal his third—regardless of New Year's Day.
What is left are the No. 1 awards of the Football Writers' Association and the AP, both of which now await the bowls for their final vote. Thus some drama is left, and this is precisely why the Cotton, Rose and Orange games are the only ones that really matter—school comptrollers aside. At least four of the teams involved in these games are still alive for the last two trophies. Three are undefeated: Texas (10-0), Ohio State (9-0) and Nebraska (10-0-1). Then there is Notre Dame at 9-1. The Irish are in contention because if they jolt Texas in their unusual Cotton Bowl rematch, if Stanford upsets Ohio State in the Rose and if LSU whips Nebraska in the Orange, Ara Parseghian's team would have as strong a claim as any.
A victory for Texas, Ohio State or Nebraska, together with losses by the other two, would, of course, make the winner No. 1, just as victories for all three would no doubt wrap it up for Texas. The Longhorns go into the bowls with more voting carryover from the regular season, and in the Irish and Joe Theismann they have more glamorous and tougher opponents than either the Buckeyes or-Cornhuskers.
Like it or not, Dallas again has the game, and it ought to have every bit as much drama as the last one, when Texas edged the Irish 21-17 in the final two minutes.
"I thought both teams played about as good as they could," Darrell Royal has said of that event, "and I would expect the same kind of thing this time if we can do our part."
Texas and Notre Dame a year ago produced one of the best contests of our time. Notre Dame was back in a postseason game for the first time in 45 years—since the heyday of the Four Horsemen—and with a team that could not have been more exciting. Theismann threw two touchdown passes and scattered Cotton Bowl aerial records all over the burnt orange. Ara's team leaped to a 10-0 lead, got behind 14-10, came back again 17-14 and then grudgingly allowed a sustained Longhorn drive—fraught with clutch plays—that ultimately produced the touchdown which kept the national title for Royal.
A few of those stars won't be around—men like James Street and Randy Peschel of Texas and Bob Olson and Mike McCoy of the Irish—but the two teams are substantially the same. Maybe even better.