The Pretenders

Teddy Karwacki had just sat down in one of those comfy chairs at Remedy Coffee in The Old City district of downtown Knoxville early Sunday afternoon when he saw Mortimer Weinstein walk in. Teddy knew what was waiting as soon as Mort had gotten his mid-afternoon latte. “I suppose you want to give me a verbal dissertation about last night’s Heisman Trophy presentation?” Teddy said it loud enough over the music so that Mort could hear.

Mort was a graduate of the Stanford Law School and a big Cardinal fan. He was a big Pac-10 fan as much as he was a Stanford supporter – he’d felt like a fish out of water since he’d taken a position as an instructor at the UT Law School many years ago. Wearing his customary crimson sweatshirt with white satin “STANFORD” stitched on the front,  Mort took the chair next to Teddy’s and said, “Andrew Luck was every bit as good of a quarterback as Cam Newton, probably even better.” Teddy had already read the particulars of the subject at hand during his morning’s sports news ritual, so he asked the proverbial leading question. “How so?”

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck became the second consecutive Cardinal player to finish as the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Photo by Ezra Shaw (Getty Images North America).

Mort was pissed about the voting results long before they were actually counted. He said, “Look. Luck passed for almost 800 more yards than did Newton during the season.” Teddy knew Mort was up on his numbers – the gap was actually narrower, but to do a fair job of comparison, one must subtract out Cam’s numbers from the SEC championship game. The Pac-10 doesn’t have such a post-regular season game. Mort added, “And, he threw for four more TDs than Cam did.” Teddy answered, “True, true.” He then took a long, slow sip from his latte to begin the slow destruction of the multi-leaved shape formed by the coffee-and-milk foam on the top. Mort continued his slow boil that was starting to speed up. “And he played for a top-five team. He was their most valuable player. They should be in the Rose Bowl instead of the goddam Orange Bowl for chrissakes.” Now, Mort was at a full rolling boil. He hated the SEC and all of it’s teams, including the one that represented his employer. He was in terror of the prospect of an SEC school winning the national championship for the fifth consecutive season.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton picks up the Heisman Trophy after his acceptance speech following being named the Heisman Trophy winner. Photo by Kelly Kline (AP).

Teddy started slowly. “Mort, I know you know how to put together an argument – you’re a law professor. So don’t give only half the story. Newton’s passing yards are lower, granted. One reason is that he threw the ball over a hundred less times than Luck did. And do you know why?” Mort didn’t answer, and he knew the answer was coming anyway and it was going to cause him to do what he did all too often when he got into arguments of emotion. So, Teddy answered his own question. “Because when he wasn’t passing the ball, he was running with it all over the goddam field! He ran the ball over two hundred times for more than thirteen hundred yards. Just think about it. Newton’s a quarterback playing in high pressure games, bringing his team back from significant point deficits multiple times, and not only does he pass for over two thousand yards, he rushes for more yards than did all but a dozen running backs during the season.” Now it was Teddy that was getting excited. “Luck passed for twenty-eight TDs and Newton for twenty-four, but Luck’s three rushing TDs are just a shade lower than Newton’s eighteen, don’t you think? During the regular season, Newton accounted for forty-two TDs. Mort, that’s eleven more than Luck!”

Mortimer Weinstein just sat there for a moment, ready to get all professorial on Teddy when Dr. Karwacki, a native Tennessean and fellow UT professor, didn’t let him, saying, “And I’m not just another fan who’s biased for the SEC above all others – I would have voted for your Toby Gerhart over Mark Ingram for last year’s award.”  Teddy had told Mort that bit of personal trivia when they had their very first discussion on college football several years back. But he didn’t tell Mort that he’d had significant doubts back in 1997 that Peyton Manning was the rightful Heisman winner over Charles Woodson, even before the voting tally announcement that crushed his fellow Vol fans. Teddy convinced himself that he’d been right – he had let his research personality traits get the best of him – but ever since he had carried a personal shame of not being fully behind his quarterback. He clearly understood why a Stanford grad would defend his man to the death, even if he really didn’t believe his guy was the best, and especially when this was the second consecutive year that a Cardinal player was the Heisman runner-up.

Both decided to silently drink their coffees for a few moments.

Mort broke the silence with, “At least Luck didn’t cheat.”

Teddy swallowed slowly and put his now-half-filled cup down on the floor between his feet so he could give a lecture from the edge of his chair. “Mort, are you teaching your law students that they should just make up their minds before reviewing all of the facts in evidence? You must be reading those West-Coast bloggers on line. I know you know that the NCAA cleared Newton to play before the SEC title game because they had no evidence that Newton, or Auburn, knew about his daddy’s pay-for-play scheme. Sure, I have my suspicions about Newton, but I don’t think it’s my position to pretend to know what actually happened and keep the kid from getting the award based on my pretending to know anything.”

Mort was now ready to dispense with factual argument. He was going for how he felt on a gut level. “You know that Newton at the very least knew about his father’s $180,000 offer made to Mississippi State in exchange for his Son’s acceptance to play there. You have to know that. There is no way that he didn’t know what his daddy was doing. Why? It’s known by several reports that it was his daddy who made the decision for his son to go to Auburn and not Mississippi State. Hell, Cam even said so. He said that his father decided that Auburn was the best choice because it was closer to home. They were doing this as a team.”

Mort wasn’t finished. “And, he decided for Auburn because Mississippi State rejected the money.”

Teddy thought that that was a plausible explanation, although perhaps hard to prove. But, he didn’t underestimate Mort’s opinions. After all, good lawyers look for the plausible and go for it via the jugular for a reason – they think they can win.

“Does that mean you think the Newtons received payment from Auburn?”

Mort replied, “Hell no. If you’re smart – and Daddy Newton is no dummy – you don’t repeat a failed crime. You change your approach. Once State rejected the payment, father and son figuratively got the hell out of Dodge. I don’t necessarily believe there was any money involved in Cam going to Auburn. But I sure as hell know that both father and son knew what went down regarding Mississippi State.”

Teddy poked fun by recommending, “Maybe you ought to go on a sabbatical and hook up with the NCAA and get down to the bottom of the bottomless pit of rumor.” Teddy knew there was no point in telling a law professor that there was a simple lack of facts in evidence to be able to pronounce Cam Newton ineligible for the game at Oregon, the Heisman trophy, and the fame that he’d rightfully gained by his play on the field. The fact was that Mort simply couldn’t stand the SEC overshadowing his Pac-10. He would probably love to take a case like that on for size, especially if it meant the possibility of some day seeing the Heisman Trophy taken away from an SEC quarterback.

“What I might do instead, Teddy, is go to the game in Glendale so I can be there when the Oregon Ducks whip the tar out of Auburn and bring the title to the West Coast.”

“The last time you tried something like that, Mort, you went to Neyland Stadium to cheer for your Pac-10 Cal against Tennessee back in 2007. I think the Vols were up 35-0 in the third quarter when you left.”

Here were a couple of professors talking smack about college football. It was a pleasurable diversion from their roles of teachers where they had to pretend to be purely objective. And as they said their goodbyes in somewhat mocking ways before heading off to the remainder of their Sunday, they pretended to each other to hope the other’s team would prevail in their upcoming bowl games.


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One response to “The Pretenders”

  1. rockytop78 says :

    A very learned and erudite discussion; I’m glad that I can sit back and enjoy the upcoming NC game without too much emotional investment, and enjoy it as pure college football.

    I presume that you were there in person for the back-and-forth? If you’re in Knoxvegas again sometime over the holidays, let me know; we’ll have to hook up (so to speak) at Barley’s Taproom or some other fine watering hole!

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