The Hot Corner: Snubs more fun than solutions?


It bugs the bejeebers out of us, those who embrace the game of football as the standard-bearer of no-frills and no-baloney.

The idea that any significant gridiron decisions are made by men wearing suits and ill-fitting sweaters in a conference room — even if those men had a proud history in the game dating back to the days of leather helmets — drives us crazy.

So momentarily insane, in fact, that the reaction is eminently predictable; the objects and targets of our derision, low-hanging fruit.

For classic examples, look no further than the dominant local and national football stories of the weekend, neither of which were settled by a pick-six or a two-minute drill.

When the Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalists were announced Saturday, and at least three of the best high school senior football players in Maine were glaringly omitted, many of us grumbled.

When the four participants in the inevitable, money-grabbing, bowls-plus-one college football national playoff were revealed Sunday, and a single one-loss team was randomly invited at the expense of two others, many of us howled.

None of this is new, or surprising. They’re the latest installments of imperfection dropped in our lap by two imperfect systems. And they’re microcosms of life, really. The few, making draconian, like-it-or-lump-it decisions on behalf of the many.

Maybe that’s why it annoys us so much. Or perhaps ESPN, MSNBC, FOX News, Facebook and Twitter have trained us to be contrarians, objecting to every little development in the world that doesn’t go our way.

In these two cases, though, it’s easy to say our uneasiness is birthed by concern that the little guy is being jobbed in deference to the big guys.

None of us who actually saw Dylan Hapworth of Winslow, Davis Turner of Oxford Hills or Alex Bandouveres of Brunswick play two, three or more times this season believe that they’re anything less than top-five players in the state, never mind that they belonged in the best baker’s dozen.

All three turned up missing on the semifinal ballot, however. At the risk of demonizing good kids who have done nothing to deserve the scrutiny, they appear to have been omitted to make room for players who wield lesser on-field credentials but live closer to the award’s Portland home base.

It has happened before. It will happen again. It shouldn’t surprise us, yet every year the righteous anger consumes us.

In the immortal words of Bill Belichick, the Fitzy is what it is. It’s our own fault for buying the hype and viewing it as Maine’s version of the Heisman, which it is not.

The Fitzy is an award begun and maintained by people from Portland and Westbrook. Over the years, the gatekeepers at least have paid lip service to expanding its reach, making it a statewide award and expanding it to schools of all sizes.

They also added academic and citizenship components, although those, like the football requirements, are vague. Intentionally vague, experience tells me, in an effort to stay above public examination.

Our irritation at the process should inspire us to action. It shouldn’t be that difficult to start a new award, creating the necessary safeguards to ensure that it’s a true, statewide honor.

Two years ago, when Mt. Blue quarterback Jordan Whitney and Brunswick running back Jared Jensen were unceremoniously left off the semifinal list, despite being the consensus one-two players in the state, I made the pitch to fellow journalists and a few respected coaches. Let’s start a Mr. Football award. Let’s do it the right way.

No takers. Sometimes I think we’d rather complain about problems than fix them. It has become the American way.

Then again, sometimes the solution doesn’t solve anything. Remember how expanding the college football national championship to a four-team playoff was going to be superior to choosing two teams at random and pitting them in a mythical title game?

Sunday’s contrived, predictable announcement didn’t pan out that way. Ohio State was invited to the party as the fourth and final team. Texas Christian and Baylor were not.

There are common elements at work here. Regional bias isn’t a reason for choosing the Buckeyes over the Bears and Horned Frogs, but status is. Ohio State is a brand name in college football. TCU and Baylor have lived in the shadow of Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma forever.

The panel choosing the elite four are men and women of a certain age (mine or slightly older) who grew up watching Archie Griffin, Art Schlichter and Keith Byars play in Rose and Fiesta Bowls. We also grew up watching Baylor and TCU go 1-9-1 in the Southwest Conference.

It’s hard to change perception and personal preference, no matter how much you change the rules. And when you expand the size of the field, you don’t eliminate the problems. When it was a two-team “playoff,” No. 3 had a beef. Now that the NCAA has conceded to four, No. 5 and No. 6 feel cheated. If they went to a 16-team field, the cry of “We’re No. 17!” would ring out from Marshall or Louisville or some such place.

And if the Fitzy folks gave us 20 names, we’d find a 21st who merited mention. ‘Tis the way of the world.

I think we like it that way, even if we pretend we don’t.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.