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The Superdome must be secured!

Donald Trump announced yesterday he would attend the College Football Playoff championship game in New Orleans.

Security was already going to be problematic with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and nearly all 144 members of the Louisiana Legislature making their way down Interstate 10 from the state capitol, where Edwards, other elected officials and legislators will be inaugurated that day.

Adding a visit by POTUS is going to exacerbate the problem exponentially.

Security for the game will be as tight as it was for the two Super Bowls in the Superdome since the September 11 attacks. The Secret Service will take the lead from the Louisiana State Police and New Orleans Police Department for security, and searches will be much longer and more thorough.

The Superdome would be better off asking the Transportation Security Administration to get full body scanners and place them at each of the four main entrances.

I bring this up because 16 years ago tonight, the Sugar Bowl matched LSU and Oklahoma for the BCS national championship. Nearly 80,000 crammed into the Superdome, which was–and still is–a record for a football game in the facility. The record for all events is 87,500 for a 1981 concert by The Rolling Stones, although an estimated 95,000 attended a 1987 youth rally with Pope John Paul II.

Please forgive me as I go off the trail to tell another story about John Paul’s only visit to the Crescent City.

The pontiff hosted an outdoor mass behind the left field fence of the University of New Orleans’ baseball stadium a few hours after the youth rally. It was not the best idea. It poured before the mass, which proved to be the lesser of two meteorological evils for New Orleans in September (at least when there’s not a hurricane bearing down on the Bayou State). Better wet from rain than dripping with sweat.

If the Archdiocese of New Orleans was smart, it would have held the mass on Sunday morning in the Superdome and asked the Saints to play on the road in week one of the 1987 season. Sure, fewer people would have been able to attend, but it would have been much more comfortable for all. John Paul was frail after he was shot in May 1981 in St. Peter’s Square, but had not yet displayed symptoms of the Parkinson’s which would claim him in 2005. He made it through the nearly two-hour service, but Archbishop Philip Hannan breathed a lot easier when the pontiff got into an air-conditioned limousine after the service.

Now, back to LSU and Oklahoma playing for half the 2003 college football national championship.

I say half the national championship, because the media voting in the Associated Press poll had Southern California (DO NOT EVER use Southern Cal) atop its poll following the regular season, and the Trojans figured to stay there after hammering Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl three days prior. The coaches poll was contractually obligated to name the winner of the designated BCS championship game its champion.

Oklahoma stayed No. 1 in the final BCS standings despite a disgustingly ugly 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, the Wildcats’ first conference championship since 1934. LSU moved into the No. 2 spot following a 34-13 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Two weeks prior to the Sugar Bowl, the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror alert threat from “Elevated” (Yellow) to “High” (Orange). Since September 11, 2001, DHS devised a terrorism threat chart with five color-coded levels. The highest was “Extreme” (Red), followed by High, Elevated, “Guarded” (Blue) and “Low” (Green).

For the Sugar Bowl, DHS, LSP and NOPD ordered nearly all of the parking lots attached to the Superdome closed. Only the garage at the southwest corner of the stadium would be opened, and very few permits would be issued.

I was one of the fortunate few. I assisted the media relations staff in the week leading up to the game, and I would be in the press box on game night researching information for the media to use in their stories. The media from out of town had a shuttle running from their designated hotel to the Superdome, so they did not receive parking passes. Some media were staying at the Hyatt Regency attached to the east entrance of the stadium, so all they had to do was walk.

When I arrived at the Superdome, I got out of my car to allow a search of all areas, including the trunk. I was driving the Oldsmobile 88 which I totaled running into a deer in Kansas in October 2005.

I made sure to only take what was essential to the game to make the search easier. I took it in stride. At least my car wasn’t being searched for drugs or other contraband!

The Bayou Bengals defeated the Sooners 21-14, giving LSU its first national championship since 1958. Nick Saban celebrated for all of six minutes, 13 seconds, give or take. There was no Gatorade shower for Saban, which was a good thing for LSU players, given Saban’s anger over his dousing by Alabama players six years later when the Crimson Tide defeated Texas for the first of five titles won by Saban in Tuscaloosa.

Security was a breeze for the 2005 Sugar Bowl, where Auburn completed a 13-0 season by defeating Virginia Tech, but had to settle for No. 2 behind USC.

The 2005 Sugar Bowl marked the last time I have set foot in the Superdome. What I wouldn’t give to set foot in there one more time.

I’m into my last day in Kansas City. Tomorrow morning its back to humdrum Russell. All good things must end.

Pigskinless Monday

Nobody who attended tonight’s Oklahoma-Kansas men’s basketball game in Lawrence cannot say they didn’t get their money’s worth.

Actually, KU should have emptied Allen Fieldhouse at the end of regulation and then charged everyone to get in to watch overtime.

Make that overtimes.

In one of the longest games in the 60-year history of the building named for Phog Allen, the Jayhawks outlasted the Sooners 109-106.Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield did all he could to carry his team, scoring 46 points, but he was outdone by a more balanced Kansas unit, led by the 27 points and 13 rebounds from senior Perry Ellis, who helped Wichita Heights win 62 consecutive games during his high school days before moving up the Kansas Turnpike.

This was not a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, as had been advertised since Saturday evening, following Kansas’ victory over Baylor and Oklahoma’s decision over Iowa State.

Rather, it was No. 1 vs. No. 1.

When the new polls were issued earlier this morning, Kansas had ascended to the top of the Associated Press survey, but Oklahoma held the top spot in the coaches’ poll. The Big 12 rivals held the No. 2 spots in the other polls, with Maryland, Virginia and Michigan State rounding out the top five.

It was a  great game, but it’s only January 4. Each team still has 16 games in Big 12 play to navigate, plus the Jayhawks have a home game Jan. 30 against Kentucky. A lot will change between now and Selection Sunday March 13.

Had Oklahoma won, it would not have been the most surprising sports story of the day.

That came from the city which the NCAA calls home.

Chuck Pagano will be coaching the Indianapolis Colts in 2016, something most pro football experts would not have seen coming as recently as Sunday morning.

The smart money had Pagano leaving after the expiration of his original four-year contract at the end of the 2015 season. The relationship between he and Colts general manager Ryan Grigson was nothing short of pure hatred, and most figured either Pagano would be let go, or owner Jim Irsay would not only let Pagano go, but also fire Grigson, who has made some absolutely pitiful personnel decisions during his tenure in Indianapolis, save for drafting Andrew Luck No. 1 overall in 2012, which anyone with half a brain could have done.

Pagano and Grigson will both return to the Colts following an 8-8 campaign in 2015, one in which Luck missed the final nine games with numerous injuries. Indianapolis started five different quarterbacks in 2015, something which hadn’t been done since the Frank Kush-Rod Dowhower days of the 1980s.

Tom Coughlin will not be back with the Giants. He resigned earlier today following 12 seasons, leading the team to victories in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. Coughlin, who was an assistant under Bill Parcells on the Giants’ Super Bowl XXV winning team, was known throughout the league as a real hard-ass who believed in extremely strict discipline and levied draconian fines for the slightest deviations when he was in Jacksonville and his first few years with the Giants.

Since 2007, Coughlin mellowed considerably, and the results were mostly positive until 2013, when the Giants suffered the first of three consecutive losing seasons. It’s the first for the club since seven straight sub-.500 years between 1973 and 1980, when the Giants were coached by Alex Webster, Bill Arnsparger, John McVay and Ray Perkins.

Late last night, the 49ers fired Jim Tomsula after a 5-11 season. Tomsula joins the likes of Monte Clark and Ken Meyer, who coached San Francisco for one season each in 1976 and 1977, respectively. At least Clark, Meyer and Tomsula lasted a full season; Pete McCulley and Fred O’Connor split the disastrous 2-14 campaign of 1978. At least Eddie DeBartolo Jr. got it right in 1979 by hiring Bill Walsh.

To nobody’s surprise, coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer were fired by Cleveland. Tennessee and Miami also are moving on from their interim coaches, Mike Mularkey and Dan Campbell.

Tonight was the first Monday without football since August 31. After Alabama and Clemson decide the college football national championship next Monday, we’ll have to get used to Mondays without football for quite a long time.



Sooner State sadness

If yesterday was not the worst display of college football on New Year’s Day since bowls were regularly played on the day, then it had to come close.

Five games, five blowouts. No game decided by fewer than 16 points, and four of the five decided by at least 28 points.

The night ended with another runaway. Ole Miss took a 34-6 lead over Oklahoma State at halftime of the Sugar Bowl and coasted to a 48-20 victory, capping an 11-2 season for the Rebels and victory in their first Sugar Bowl appearance since the end of the 1969 season, when Archie Manning was a junior.

The Rebels played without their best player, All-American defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who was suspended by coach Hugh Freeze following an incident in an Atlanta hotel where it was revealed he was smoking marijuana. Marijuana may be legal in some states, but it is certainly not in Georgia or Mississippi.

It was two very bad days for the state of Oklahoma.

The Sooners lost in the Orange Bowl to Clemson on New Year’s Eve, ending their hopes of a national championship. Last night, it was the Cowboys’ turn. Combined with Tulsa’ loss to Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl the day after Christmas, it was an imperfect trifecta for the Sooner State.

Oklahoma State was 10-0 and ranked sixth in the College Football Playoff poll, but ended the year with a giant thud, losing at home to Baylor and Oklahoma to close the regular season, then going to New Orleans and getting thoroughly manhandled by Ole Miss.

The Cowboys need to get better on defense in a hurry. They cannot try to outscore every opponent, a plan which was fatally flawed. Oklahoma State was fortunate to be 10-0 in the first place, as it needed last-second drives to defeat Texas by three and Kansas State by two early in Big 12 play. And don’t forget the Cowboys struggled mightily to win at Iowa State before taking on Baylor and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State isn’t going back to the dark days of the early 1990s when it was on probation in the post-Barry Sanders years and found itself consistently at or near the bottom of the Big Eight. But if the Cowboys are to stay in the upper crust of the Big 12, they will need help.

For those in Stillwater hoping for better, wait until baseball season. Your basketball team is going to have to fight tooth and nail just to finish eighth in the Big 12. At least TCU should keep the Cowboys (and Texas Tech) out of the cellar.

Such will not be the case in Norman, where Lon Krueger has coached the Sooners to the No. 3 spot in the polls behind Michigan State and Kansas. Provided the Jayhawks and Sooners both win today, Monday’s matchup in Lawrence will be No. 1 vs. No. 2.

Oklahoma football will be a force to be reckoned with in 2016. Baker Mayfield will be on the short list of Heisman Trophy favorites, joined by Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fornette. Bob Stoops will be in Norman as long as he wants, as long as he doesn’t get taken down by scandal as was the case with Barry Switzer in the late 1980s.

Ole Miss had to wonder what might have been all throughout their stay in New Orleans.

The Rebels beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in September. Yet they blew that signature victory by losing at Florida, at Memphis and at home to Arkansas in overtime. Ole Miss blew the Arkansas game by allowing the Razorbacks to convert a fourth-and-25 in overtime, then committing a facemask penalty on the 2-point conversion attempt, allowing Arkansas another shot, which it converted.

Had Ole Miss beaten Arkansas, it would have played for the SEC championship, not Alabama. The Rebels would easily have handled Florida, even though the Gators beat Ole Miss 38-10 in Gainesville in October. If the College Football Playoff committee truly values conference championships, then there would have been no way Alabama could have been in the playoff ahead of Ole Miss or Pac-12 champion Stanford. And would Iowa have been able to hold a top-four spot after losing to

Thankfully, we did not have to find about Iowa in the playoff. Its pathetic performance in the Rose Bowl proved it was overrated.

On the other hand, Stanford has to feel some animosity towards Ole Miss. The Cardinal would have been in Miami and not Pasadena had the Rebels not blown it vs. Arkansas.

However, that’s all hindsight. It’s Alabama and Clemson in nine days.

Today’s football kicked off a few minutes ago in Jacksonville with Penn State and Georgia facing off in the TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly the Gator Bowl). TaxSlayer? Please.

In 1982, Penn State defeated Georgia, led by Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl. Today’s matchup holds a lot less intrigue. Just another bowl.