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The Inside Track | Mike Penner SOUND AND VISION

NFL Rivalries Taken on an Individual Basis

November 22, 2003|Mike Penner

In college football, rivalry week means raucous pep rallies, campus bonfires, opposition mascots hung in effigy, spray-painted statues, stolen landmarks and a host of other petty crimes and misdemeanors that fall under the heading "school spirit."

In pro football, rivalry week means the loudmouth wide receiver gets put on the deactivated list.

In college football, the rivalry week loser watches its big bowl dreams go up in smoke while its fans work up the courage to pay off a host of pregame wagers that fall under the heading "public humiliation."

In pro football, the rivalry week loser gets a cool commentator's gig on Fox.

College and pro football remain two sides of the same sport separated by a common word: rivalry. College football rivalries are group endeavors -- school versus school, program versus program, city versus city, even state versus state. Not so in pro football, where free agency and franchise relocation have all but obliterated any sense of team-versus-team rivalry.

(Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Cleveland Browns Version 2.0, a.k.a. the expansion team that filled the void left behind when the original Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore to fill the void left behind when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis. Any of this giving anyone goose bumps yet? Oh right. The goose bumps opted out of town for a better stadium deal.)

In the NFL, rivalries are personal, individual, one-on-one kind of feuds, as befits the league's me-first credo. College football gives us Ohio State versus Michigan, with the loser spinning out of national championship contention. Pro football gives us Jon Gruden versus Keyshawn Johnson, with the loser leaving town and landing on Fox's NFL pregame show.

Elsewhere during this big rivalry weekend, it's USC versus UCLA, Charles Woodson versus Bill Callahan, Washington versus Washington State, Steve Spurrier versus Daniel Snyder, Alabama versus Auburn, Tim Rattay versus Jeff Garcia, Harvard versus Yale, Mike Martz versus Brenda Warner, Clemson versus South Carolina, Al Davis versus Lamar Hunt, Cal versus Stanford and every NFL fan's favorite rivalry, Corey Dillon versus Corey Dillon.

Dillon has always been his own worst enemy.

Available for viewing in the days ahead:

TODAY

* Ohio State at Michigan

(Channel 7, 9 a.m.)

USC football fans and haters of the bowl championship series are not one and the same, hence the varying rooting interests in this one. USC fans, of course, will be singing the Michigan fight song over breakfast. But BCS haters are pure nihilists, hoping for BCS chaos and resultant anarchy, so they will be pulling for an Ohio State victory, seeing it as the final straw that could at last bring down the much-maligned house of computer chips.

BCS haters are wide-eyed optimists. The reality is this: An Ohio State victory will do nothing to force a major-college football playoff. If Nebraska two seasons ago couldn't blow up the BCS, nothing will.

All an Ohio State victory will mean is a lot of on-air shouting by TV pundits from here to January. And no one outside of Columbus, Ohio, wants that.

* UCLA at USC

(Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.)

In case there was any doubt as to which rivalry is bigger, ABC has dispatched Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts to Ohio State-Michigan, leaving UCLA-USC with Brad Nessler and Bob Griese. That's what a 22-point betting spread will do for you.

* LSU at Mississippi

(Channel 2, 12:30 p.m.)

Eli Manning takes his Heisman Trophy campaign to a national audience. Most media speculation has Manning on the outside looking in at a two-player race between Oklahoma quarterback Jason White and Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. There is one way for Manning to break into the insider's circle, as Archie may have mentioned to Eli this week.

* Alabama at Auburn

(ESPN, 4:45 p.m.)

Sports Illustrated calls this the best rivalry in college football. This season, Alabama and Auburn bring a combined 12 losses into the big game -- the most since the series began in 1893. Sports Illustrated isn't what it used to be, either.

* Oscar Larios vs. Napapol Kiattisakchocchoi

(Pay-per-view, 6 p.m.)

This is the first pay-per-view card for Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy production company. De La Hoya is asking you to pay $29.95 to see if Larios can hold off Kiattisakchocchoi. Big deal. Let's see him spell it.

* Francisco Bojado vs. Juan Carlos Rubio

(Showtime, 9 p.m.)

Or, if you'd rather wait and spend nothing more than a few minutes, this marks fight No. 500 on "Showtime Championship Boxing."

SUNDAY

* Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills

(Channel 2, 10 a.m.)

Eli Manning's brother loves playing indoors, is not so hot on the cold.

* San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers

(Channel 11, 10 a.m.)

Terrell Owens prefers Rattay over Garcia. Rattay starts at quarterback for the 49ers at Lambeau. Got to keep the man in charge happy.

* Presidents Cup

(Channel 4, 9 a.m.)

Having lost the most recent Ryder and Solheim Cups, the United States tries to avoid the international team golf clean sweep. So much is at stake: NBC television ratings on an NFL Sunday. Sales of Tiger Woods' latest-version video game. And ... hmm, there was supposed to be something else ... oh, right, the pride, prestige and international reputation of U.S. professional golf. Something like that.

* MLS Cup

(Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.)

Subliminally speaking, it's the MLS championship game (Freddy Adu signs with D.C. United!) featuring the San Jose Earthquakes (Freddy Adu signs with D.C. United!) against the Chicago Fire (Freddy Adu signs with D.C. United!) at the Home Depot Center (Freddy Adu signs with D.C. United!).

Not to say MLS sabotaged its annual showcase game this week or anything, but can we get this out of the way and get on with Freddy Adu's rookie season already?

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