They say the two most popular sports in Texas are football and spring football. It's this type of mentality that prompts tens of thousands of football nuts to flock to stadiums each April or May to watch intrasquad scrimmages, sometimes even paying for the privilege.
When you stop and think about it, this whole spring football thing is silly. Who really cares if Blue beats Gold? Can the players actually get excited about the prospect of beating up on their teammates? What is said in pregame pep talks? "Go out there and kill us ?"
No, these rites of spring simply can't be taken too seriously, which is why the approach Cal State Fullerton is taking to its spring game is so refreshing. It will be Orange vs. White in the May Bowl tonight at 7 in Fullerton District Stadium, but Titan Coach Gene Murphy and his staff seem to have put this off-season exercise in its proper perspective.
"We had 16 days of good spring football," Murphy said. "Now we're going to have a little fun."
Murphy said he plans to watch the game from the stands, leaving the X's and O's to a couple of newcomers to the coaching ranks. Coaching the Orange team will be Cliff Hatter, Fullerton's equipment manager. His counterpart will be Titan trainer Jerry Lloyd. Hatter's team will be known as the Mad Hatters. The White squad is calling itself Lloyd's Boys (a.k.a. Jerry's Kids).
"We feel that Hatter's team will be the best-dressed and best-equipped," Murphy said, "but they'll have to tape their own ankles."
Hatter and Lloyd will have a little help. Murphy's assistant coaches were divided between the teams, and they served as consultants during a four-hour meeting Monday in which Lloyd and Hatter drafted players.
The draft was the first step in the fantasy Lloyd and Hatter have been living out this week. Murphy figured he would give two of the more mischievous characters in Fullerton's athletic department a chance to run the show for one night. It's a rather irreverent approach, but it is, after all, a distinctly irrelevant game. Besides, it is Cal State Fullerton. The Titans always have had an affinity for doing things differently from the members of college football's Big Time.
"Basically, all the evaluation of players has been done," Lloyd said. "Now it's time to go out and play and have some fun. That's the beauty about being in a situation like we're in. We can do that. We have that luxury."
Said Hatter, smiling: "I've always thought that I know more than the coaches do in all sports. I sit on the bench for basketball and baseball. I'm on the sidelines for football. I've always felt that I could do what the coaches do. So, we'll find out Saturday night. Maybe Murph will feel threatened."
The draft revealed which Titans the coaches and their consultants felt have made the greatest strides during spring practice. A look at the top 10 selections:
1. Phil Benson (C, Mad Hatters)--There were 31 players taken in last week's National Football League draft before the first center's name was called, but Lloyd and Hatter concurred that Benson was worthy of becoming the top May Bowl pick. Said Hatter: "No. 1, I think the center is the key guy on a team. And we're not just talking about any center. Benson is a guy the coaches feel could be one of their best players this year."
2. Tommy Thompson (DT, Lloyd's Boys)--The transfer from Compton College was so impressive in spring drills that he earned the distinction of being the only newcomer selected among the top 10. "He's very strong and mobile," Lloyd said. "We just don't think they've got anyone who can handle him."
3. Bill Bryan (LB, Lloyd's Boys)--By going second, Lloyd was awarded two picks in the first round, and he used the second to take the Titans' leading tackler in 1986.
4. John Smith (OLB, Mad Hatters)--Hatter's first defensive pick is one of the biggest success stories of the spring. Smith was a reserve tight end last season who was converted to linebacker on the third day of spring drills. He'll go into fall practice as a starter.
5. Harold Jones (DE, Lloyd's Boys)--Last season's freshman of the year has been moved from nose guard to defensive end, and his high selection indicated that the decision has looked good this spring.
6. James Howard (CB, Mad Hatters)--Murphy said Howard has the potential to play professional football. Howard and the rest of the secondary will be a key for the Titans when things start getting serious next fall.
7. Ted Hinton (OLB, Lloyd's Boys)--Lloyd continued to get defensive by selecting Hinton, who should get more playing time next fall with the departure of four-year starter Sean Foy.
8. Tyrone Pope (CB, Mad Hatters)--Hatter and his staff made the first bold move of the draft, attempting to corner the market on corners. Pope and Howard both figure to be starters for the Titans next season.