I’m not sure who needed who more, but Rick Neuheisel and UCLA finally got together Saturday. And Pac-10 football just got a little tougher.
Neuheisel needed a way back into college football after the celebrated NCAA basketball pool mess at Washington back in 2002. As a Rose Bowl-winning quarterback and former assistant coach at Westwood, there was no better place for the Tempe native to make his return.
And the Bruins needed a football coach to get them beyond the malaise of Bob Toledo and Karl Dorrell and back to the glory days of Terry Donahue, who was Neuheisel’s coach at UCLA. They needed someone who can at least challenge the Pete Carroll machine across the city and make USC-UCLA a rivalry more than in name only.
The last thing Arizona State needed was another team on the same growth plane, another team with the goal of joining the Trojans, Oregon and California in the battle for Pac-10 supremacy. Yet another fertile coaching mind in a conference already full of challenges. Oh well, at least Mike Stoops is still in Tucson.
The difference between Texas football staffer Chris Jessie and Steve Bartman is the teams they root for. Once Bartman made his bonehead play at Wrigley Field during the 2003 NL championship series, he was at the mercy of the Cubs to save his pedestrian behind. Jessie had the Longhorns to lean on — and the fact that ASU had no interest in stopping Texas, or protecting Rudy Carpenter all season.
Whether it’s television commentators, bowl officials, mayors or anyone else, no one can seem to separate Arizona from Arizona State. Let’s help these people out. Forget trying to come up with a Wildcat word association or relating the schools to their respective cities or all that other stuff. Just use this simple guideline: If it’s December and the team you’re talking about is in a bowl game, it’s the Arizona State Sun Devils. Got it?
We’ve all taken a few jabs at 81-year-old Joe Paterno for hanging on to his job too long at Penn State. But this week’s crumb is the Texas A&M male cheerleader (I call him that, because they hate that) who tried to spike an Aggie Alamo Bowl pep rally by saying Joe Pa was “on his deathbed” and “someone needs to find him a casket.” You know what? Paterno will be back next season, but this guy will be turning in his megaphone.
• Why was the Unabomber introducing the ASU starting lineup at the Holiday Bowl?
• With Jose Valverde already in the fold, the Astros continued to build their bullpen in Arizona’s image by signing ex-D-Back Oscar Villarreal to a two-year contract. If I’m Mike Koplove’s agent, I’m spending the next few days waiting by the phone.
• Utah came out of the Gordan Giricek situation smelling like a rose, shipping Giricek and a first-round pick to the 76ers for 3-point shooting specialist Kyle Korver. They got rid of a headache and improved their team all in one move — not bad.
Korver is just the kind of shooter the Suns could use right now, although I’m not sure Marcus Banks and a draft pick could have enticed the Sixers.
• Vinny Testaverde says today in Tampa Bay — where his career began 21 years ago — he will play his final NFL game and he’ll retire at the age of 44. But when you look around at the quarterback crop in the league, you know his phone will ring again when the injuries start to pile up next year.
In between the stories of steroids, dogfighting, O.J. Simpson and other embarrassments, 2007 did have some feel-good sports stories. Here are my top five:
FIVE: Major college football upsets, starting with Appalachian State’s stunner at Michigan and ending with Pittsburgh beating West Virginia.
FOUR: NFL Europe folded — just before people might have realized it existed — and Isiah Thomas had nothing to do with it.
THREE: The Boston Red Sox won a World Series and, so far, no one has used it as the basis for a hokey, romantic comedy.
TWO: The Patriots’ run toward a perfect season — and that ESPN restrained itself and didn’t shove the thing down our throats every waking hour of the day.
ONE: The sight of Buffalo’s Kevin Everett walking again. It just doesn’t get any better.