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College Notebook No. 13
Friday, September 9, 2005

By Denny O'Brien

Win or lose, Tulane already a champion



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If justice truly existed in college football, Tulane would finish the season as the consensus national champion.

My perfect scenario has the Green Wave waltzing through the regular season unscathed, breezing by its opponent in the Conference USA championship game, and completing its Cinderella story with a come-from-behind victory over Southern Cal in Pasadena.

The fitting sidebar to that heartwarming headline would be a Heisman Trophy for quarterback Lester Ricard and Coach-of-the-Year honor for Chris Scelfo. Add to that an appointment of school President Scott Cowen to head the Bowl Championship Series, and you have my version of college football nirvana.

Anything less would be unfair considering the cruel hand the Wave has been dealt over the past two weeks.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is more severe than any of us could have imagined. Before she thundered through the Big Easy, one of the city's trademarks was the pleasing sound of the horse and buggy, which has since been replaced the painful chorus of Evinrude motors.

Lives have been lost. Buildings have been destroyed. And it could be years before the birthplace of jazz again is filled by the joyful blast of trumpets.

It's during tragedies like these that we often question ourselves about the importance of sport and its place in society. It's a debate that surfaced almost immediately following the assassination of JFK and again was volleyed after the attacks of 9/11.

On one hand, sports are and should be secondary to what is most important in these scenarios — human life. On the other, it can serve as a salve that helps heal the wounds that we sometimes are dealt.

Looking back to 1999, football provided Eastern North Carolina with a needed diversion from the fury that was unleashed by Hurricane Floyd. The fact that East Carolina defeated No. 9 Miami on national television in a rival's venue and against the most extreme adversity the program has ever faced was perhaps a foreshadowing that the region would survive.

While most Division I-A athletes spent their evenings flashing their bling at the local dance club, the Pirates spent their nights leading up to the Miami game in sweat suits at a Columbia hotel. And instead of Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren, Fruit of the Loom emerged as the hottest clothing commodity.

Magnify that by ten million and you have the reality in which Tulane must survive this season.

Where the Pirates were displaced for a solid week, the Wave will be relocated for at least a semester, possibly more. Its players will perform in an unfamiliar setting and likely will need a map to help them navigate around their new campus.

In the process, they will sleep under a different roof, encounter new faces, and exist in an environment that is completely foreign. For some, there won't be encouraging words from a girlfriend after a tough loss or difficult practice, not to mention the much-needed escape to their favorite pizza dive.

It's under this Code Red that football will persist for the Tulane football program.

"I have shared with our coaches that Tulane Athletics has been given a role and a mission," Tulane AD Rick Dickson said in a statement earlier this week. "That is `Carry the Torch, Be the Face, Represent the Name of Tulane University.'

"We have to carry the message, to Tulanians especially, but also to the whole country, that an institution as valuable as a 170-year-old university and a culture as rich and vibrant as ours in New Orleans, will not and cannot be erased by this disaster."

And it won't.

The Big Easy will survive this catastrophe and reclaim its status as one of the South's cultural beacons. There will be more crawfish than we can possibly digest, plenty of Voodoo practiced, and more Mardis Gras parades to celebrate.

Thankfully we won't have to wait as long for Tulane football.

The Green Wave is plenty talented and very-well coached. On paper, it is a group that could compete for the C-USA West and a postseason bowl.

Given the events of the past two weeks, the odds of either is now less favorable. At this stage, remaining competitive in a single game would rank as a major accomplishment given the severity of the situation.

But the fact that Tulane is even playing this fall makes it a true champion to me.

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02/23/2007 02:00:24 AM

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