An open letter to Senators John McCain and Barack Obama:
Dear Mr. President-to-be (and his graceful Runner-Up-to-be),
Before you save the country, why not save a football program?
On behalf of all Mid-Southerners, welcome to our neck of the woods. We know you'll each be in top form Friday night in Oxford, when Ole Miss students see the biggest on-campus showdown since the Manning boys' daddy was slinging the pigskin. Which brings me to my reason for writing.
What better way to wind down after your opening debate than to spend a Saturday afternoon doing what every decent and God-fearing American does on such a fall day: watch some football. And what better place for the next leader of the free world to enjoy some blocking and tackling than in an arena called Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium? With kickoff between our Memphis Tigers and the Arkansas State Red Wolves scheduled for 1 pm, you can be in a swing state by nightfall, knowing you've done wonders for rescuing a crippled program that seems as bruised these days as our nation's economy. Tiger football, my presidential aspirants, is a cause worth fighting for.
Hailing from Arizona and Illinois -- where the state universities are far more renowned for basketball than football -- I know you'll empathize with a cause that, one year after the next, falls under the considerable shadow of a roundball program that makes national waves every time John Calipari appears on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. (Okay, so the Illini reached the Rose Bowl last season. They've done so twice in 40 years and lost by a combined score of 94-26.) Tiger football, you see, embodies all that each of you have campaigned for: the underdog, the fighter, the team given no chance, a group of young men audacious enough to hope for victory against the odds, and a program left in the conference equivalent of a POW camp (but with a name I know you both applaud: Conference USA). How does this team stand up against the overwhelming strength of SEC programs east, west, north, and south? Do your business in Oxford (as the Tigers attempted in their season opener), then take the short drive north to find out.
You see, with no SEC team on the home schedule, this is the Tigers' one chance to fill the cavernous Liberty Bowl (capacity: 65,000). A team wearing blue (for you, Senator Obama) and a team wearing red (for you, Senator McCain). Rest assured, Mr. McCain, we won't tell anyone if you sit on the side supporting a team from Arkansas.
Oh, you'll each get your chance to earn some votes on November 4th. Instead of the Mighty Sound of the South taking the field at halftime, you'll each get ten minutes to share with your audience the most critical components of your campaign. Coin flip (if we can find one) to see who speaks first. Bonus points to the candidate who draws the best parallel between fixing a country and fixing a college football team looking for its first decent win of the season.
Please make sure you bring your running mates with you to the game. Based on their roots, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are probably the only two adults who will be thoroughly impressed by the Memphis-ASU showdown. I don't care how many lower-division championships the University of Delaware has won, the Tigers would beat the snot out of any team that calls itself the Blue Hens. As for Ms. Palin's perspective, the average attendance at the Liberty Bowl last season (29,670) is almost five times the population of Wasilla, Alaska. She'll think she's landed in the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And the Tiger has yet to be born that needs any lipstick.
The economy's in the toilet. Wars on more fronts than we can count. Coasts ravaged by hurricanes. Any presidential problem-solver, though, needs a bit of training. I present to you, Number 44: University of Memphis football.
See you at the game!