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Marquee Football Just a Passing Thought

MIKE PENNER

August 27, 1995|Mike Penner

foot-ball (fut-bol), n: any of several games played between two teams on a rectangular field having two goal posts at each end, although not anymore at Anaheim Stadium.

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* Turn Back The Clock Night? Wasn't that Friday evening, San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the Rams revisiting the coast they left, playing in front of fewer than 50,000 fans, scoring fewer than 10 points and losing to the Chargers, 17-9?

* Sorry, the eyes are starting to mist up here.

* The golden oldies of yesteryear: Chris Miller--20 attempts, nine completions, no touchdowns, 104 yards.

* And another: Troy Drayton--one catch, eight yards.

* Do you remember the winter of '94? Jerome Bettis--six carries, minus-14 yards.

* All the game needed was a fumble by Cleveland Gary and a blown coverage by Steve Israel, but, sadly, both have already been cut by the St. Louis Rams.

* That city never did have any feel for football tradition.

* Memories, that's all we have in the erstwhile home of the Big Orange Classic. No Rams, no Pigskin Classic, no Big Orange Classic, no Freedom Bowl, which used to be the Big Orange Classic before the Big Orange Classic "went on hiatus" before the first installment. Big-Time (Or Somewhat Sizable) Football at The Big A: 1980-1994. It was occasionally fun while it lasted.

* From the start, I had a sinking feeling the name "Big Orange Classic" was never going to make it, but did it have to take the game with it?

* They went with "classic" instead of "bowl" to prevent confusion between Anaheim's postseason bowl game and Miami's. Because, as it stood, you knew there was bound to be conclusion aplenty.

* "Freedom Bowl" was always a better handle, even if it was named after a newspaper chain instead of Old Glory, even if too many people confused it with the Independence Bowl and the Liberty Bowl. No one, however, ever confused it with the Orange Bowl. Or the Rose Bowl. Or the Holiday Bowl. And therein lies the crux of the problem: Sandwiched between Pasadena and San Diego, the Freedom Bowl was geographically undesirable. Too many bowl games in too tight a proximity. The Freedom Bowl might have been able to survive as Rose Bowl Jr. But when the billing is Holiday Bowl Jr., a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and Mary Tyler Moore reruns on "Nick At Night" start to sound immensely appealing.

* I saw nine of the 11 Freedom Bowls, which is not something I'd ordinarily choose to announce in public, but, you know, duty calls. I missed the 1989 game between Florida and Washington--but then so did the Florida athletic director, the Florida cheerleaders and for all intents, Emmitt Smith--and I missed the last game, which was played between Utah and somebody. Utah played in the final two Freedom Bowls and maybe, in retrospect, that should had clued us in then and there.

* The best Freedom Bowl was the 1990 game, which saw Colorado State hold off Oregon, 32-31, while rabid, foot-stomping Colorado State fans in the upper deck turned in a pretty fair impression of a 4.0 earthquake. But the best-\o7 loved \f7 Freedom Bowl will always be the 1992 game--Fresno State 24, USC 7--because it not only proved the existence of a Higher Being, but also that this Higher Being has a splendid sense of humor. Fresno over USC? Anyone who can't appreciate that one is spending too much time and money getting the new Sports Illustrated cover mounted and framed.

* The most poetic, prophetic and downright bizarre Freedom Bowl was, of course, the first--Iowa 55, Texas 17 and Chuck Long over the top for six touchdown passes amid monsoon conditions. Two nationally prominent programs, a record-breaking passing performance--and the clouds burst and only 24,093 were willing to man the lifeboats to watch it. The life story of the Freedom Bowl, in a nutshell.

* Will it ever return, in some other form, under some other name, in 1996? The phrase "hiatus" is not a good sign. Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State both put their football programs on "one-year hiatus" and that was, what, three years ago?

* Now the only football due to be played inside Anaheim Stadium this fall will be a high school semifinal or final. Nothing wrong with that in itself; Los Alamitos-Mater Dei was more entertaining than Rams-anybody last year. But the days of the marquee football event in Anaheim are gone, possibly for good. When it comes to the skin of pig, the Big A just became the Big Tumbleweed.

* All that's left to be said: Will we miss it? Well, life in Orange County has proceeded pretty much unaltered without a Michigan-Virginia Pigskin Classic. The Rams are 1-3 in the preseason, last in the NFC West, averaging fewer than 20 points per game and don't even have a quarterback controversy to get behind--unless Miller vs. Rypien has them rocking on their bar stools in St. Louis. And a Freedom Bowl/Big Orange Classic without a Pac-10 tie-in? Utah-Tulsaanyone?

* Sorry, but we'll pass. And after Chuck Knox and T.J. Rubley and Chris Miller, that's a welcome change in the weekly routine.

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