Playoffs won't change NCF loyalty


DICKY MAEGLE WAS fast that day, his legs still fresh in the second quarter of the '54 Cotton Bowl.

Maegle, the Rice halfback and future College Football Hall of Famer, took the handoff near his own goal line, turned the corner and blazed along the Alabama bench, on his way to a sure 95-yard touchdown.

From the sideline, Tide fullback Tommy Lewis, who'd scored his team's only points in the first quarter, turned to see Maegle racing across the midfield chalk. In one second, one never-ending second, he launched himself bareheaded and laid Maegle out in one of the most memorable tackles in college football history. The refs gave Maegle his touchdown, and Rice would eventually win 28-6, while Lewis was left to wonder forever about what he had done. He lost his composure, he would later say as a guest with Maegle on The Ed Sullivan Show, because he was so full of love for the colors on his chest that he had to come off the sideline and knock that man down.

The tackle lives on and on, as close as Google, or your granddaddy's memories. It is one of my favorite college football stories, not for its strangeness but because it proves something I've always believed: that no matter how much you dress it up or poke at it, college football is, at its core, a kind of beautiful chaos, something science, and certainly not people, can neither manage nor explain.

THE PAST IS dead, despite what Faulkner said. Or so I've been told. An editor at this magazine, figuring he might get yet another story from me in which I evoke snapping turtles, thunderstorms, my grandma and the revered bones of Paul "Bear" Bryant, did his best to steer me away from Southern antiquity and into the 21st century, into the brave new era of the College Football Playoff -- into the future. "I need you," he told me, not unkindly, "to look beyond the kudzu."

You're right, brother. The BCS, like the wishbone and the tear-away jersey, has been discarded. And with it, many fans hope, goes a landscape utterly dominated by teams south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, though that may have been an inevitability, ?a leveling of the universe, regardless of a playoff.

So in this historic year, as we jettison a much-criticized and whined-about system for something simpler, less scientific, a four-team tournament pieced together by a small panel of important, impartial people, what in God's name should we expect?

The answer, I believe, is just as simple: It is, for most of us, merely a new box for the same ragged, battered hat.

Now, I also believe it will be a great year, from the stands. In a time in which Lane Kiffin can take the sideline as Alabama's offensive coordinator and the rivers do not run backward, a time when the reigning Heisman winner can evade any defense in the ACC but not a security guard at the local supermarket, this should be wicked fun.

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