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January 8, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 2
The Politics of Pigskin: A Guide to the Bowl Games
by Clark Whelton
Like it or not, Richard Nixon has had considerable success with his policy of making political goo-goo eyes at the Silent Majority and the South. These people, natural followers, are rushing to line up behind the man who wants to be a leader more than anything else in the world. Even Nixon’s critics in the Congress have grudgingly admitted that the President has correctly judged the mood of the country on Vietnam, civil rights, and Spiro A. The press has become more cautious and the Middle Americans are Time’s Man and Woman of the Year. But Nixon’s biggest coup of all has not received the attention it deserves. He has become a pusher of the new opiate of the people.
That football should have replaced religion as the weekend sedative for the millions is not surprising. Religion has a lot to offer. Drama (plagues and pillars of salt), violence (nails in flesh, circumcision), and spectacle (walking through, or on, the sea). But football offers still more. There it is on the tube every weekend, dishing up mind-soothing servings of regulated riot, dispensing vicarious release from the tensions of the times. And nobody passes the plate. Football does for the Middle American mentality what it is unable to do for itself. A click of the knob, and the players act out the frustrations of the viewer. In full color and hi-fi, black and white people stomp each other to the roar of the arena, draining the pustules of pent-up hatred in the should of the man on Main Street. It is a soul that Nixon understands well. Presidents used to have themselves photographed at church, but Nixon prefers to be seen in a football stadium. He knows what he’s doing, and last month he set in motion a little football drama that ended on New Year’s Day in Nixon’s first political victory of 1970.
It all began when the President decided to designate the winner of the Texas-Arkansas game as the National Collegiate Champion. It was an unprecedented and unblushing act of political expediency, designed to have football do for Nixon in the South what the Mets did for Lindsay in New York. There is no such thing as an official collegiate champion, but Nixon couldn’t lose. A southern team had to win. Penn State fans were enraged. Their team was also undefeated and claiming to be number one. Nixon needed the South more than he needed Pennsylvania, however, so he flew off to Dixie award the winning Texas team the trophy, in full televised view of the national faithful.
It was an agonizing moment for the people who love football and hate Nixon. But there was compensation. Texas still had to play in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, and suddenly there was the delicious possibility that Nixon had mousetrapped himself. A Texas loss combined with a Penn State win in the Orange Bowl would leave the Texans holding a Presidential antique. A prize in December would become a joke in January. In a kind of domino syndrome, all four major bowl games were drawn into the act. To the victory-starved minds of the effete snobs, it was a chance to embarrass Nixon and hurt his chances in the South and in ’72. In case you thought the bowl games were just an assortment of padded madmen running around on a striped field, here’s a quick rundown on Nixon’s first crisis of the decade.
The Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame-Texas. This was the big one, the key to the other three. An Irish victory would win Nixon a free trip to the LBJ ranch. While people who are both anti-papist and anti-administration shrewd their nails in indecision, Notre Dame nearly pulled it off. It took a last-minute Texas touchdown to beat them 21-17. Nixon’s big bet had come home a winner, but the other bowl games offered the hope that something could be salvaged.
The Rose Bowl. Southern California-Michigan. This was the most difficult game to analyze politically. Southern Cal had been tied 14-14 by Notre Dame earlier in the season, but it was also Pat Nixon’s alma mater. Verdict: Southern Cal’s 10-3 win was a victory for Milhous.
The Sugar Bowl. Arkansas-Mississippi. A chance for second-rated Arkansas to crush their more reactionary opponents and perhaps indicate that, even without the plaque, they were really number one. But the redder necks came through 27-24, and Dickie had another win.
The Orange Bowl. Penn State-Missouri. The last faint hope. Penn State had to win big to cast doubt on Texas’s Presidential rating. Although their 10-3 margin wasn’t as large as it should have been, it was the only success of the day for the effete fans.
The overall bowl results were depressing. Silent Majority 3, America 1. The year had begun badly. Only the Super Bowl remained and that wasn’t likely to give much satisfaction. Ever since Spiro A. was booed at a Los Angeles Ram game, Nixon has been steering clear of the pros. A smart move. As President and high priest of the Middle Americans, he knows that he only looks good to the eyes of amateurs.
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