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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

During tonight's National Championship college football game, Alabama versus Texas, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, you will notice as the cameras pan the sidelines two key players from these very same opponents way back 45 years ago. One is more famous, more recognizable, than the other. That's Joe Namath. He quarterbacked the Crimson Tide of Alabama that night in the Orange Bowl, nearly half a century ago. Going up against him was a tight end and linebacker for the University of Texas, Pete Lammons. Tonight Lammons will prowl behind the Longhorns bench while Namath will stick close to the boys of his alma mater, Bama.

The final score of that 1965 Orange Bowl wound up Texas 21, Alabama 17. The key play, the demise of the Tide's push for victory, was a Namath quarterback sneak at the goal line. He dropped his right shoulder, braced that bad knee of his for the drive through the pile. But it was not to be. Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis wouldn't allow Namath the mere inches he needed for the winning touchdown. To this day, Alabama teammates, including Joe Willie Namath himself, protest that he actually inched across the line. We'll never know if slo-mo instant replay would have reversed the call. Pete Lammons, who played both offense and defense back in the day, intercepted Namath twice for a big night himself.

Four years after that dramatic game, in the very same Orange Bowl Stadium, Broadway Joe Namath took the field as a New York Jet, having made his audacious prediction that they would take down the highly favored Baltimore Colts. Four of Namath's squad, who in fact did undo Johnny Unitas' Colts to become the champs of Super Bowl III, had been on the very Texas team that denied him that 1965 college championship game. One of the four was the very Pete Lammons who will salute his former foe and ally Joe Willie Namath from across the field tonight.

Once the Alabama-Texas game crowns the best college team in the country, the post-season road to the Superbowl starts for professional football this weekend. There has been much and loud grumbling about sitting top players over the last few games of the regular season, as there is every year. Teams certain to move on to the post season made some decisions to substitute second- and third-tier players, rather than risk injury to the stars. Gamblers nationwide have been incensed, not being able to accurately predict outcomes, not knowing beforehand if the regular starters would play or not. Hard-core fans have been outraged, suffering avoidable losses.

The ultimate was the Colts game of a couple of weeks ago. The previously undefeated Saints had already lost a game, leaving the Colts as the only undefeated team, shooting for history. Midway into a game they didn't need to win against the Jets, the Indianapolis coach pulled superstar quarterback Peyton Manning and other starters to the sideline. Fans in the stands went berserk, as did thousands watching from home, as their Colts lost and their perfect season fell apart.

While I understand the beauty of 16 and 0, there is no prize for that achievement. The chance of injury is so great when these giants collide at full speed that it seems senseless not to rest the thoroughbreds when the game outcome holds no significance.

Look at the New England Patriots. They play for their season's survival this Sunday without their key receiver, Wes Welker, injured in last week's meaningless game against Houston.

It's a quandary that has no solution. Many of those last regular season games are purposely not played at the highest quality level when coaches decide to rest key players. But who's going to dictate to those coaches who they play and who they rest?

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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