The Opening Pitch: The biggest sports event of the year is today.
No, I'm not a day too early on the Florida-Alabama game -- although if you live in SEC Country, this IS the sports event of the year. (See next item.)
But the real sports event of the year happens at noon, when the draw occurs in South Africa to set the World Cup groupings. (UPDATE: Live blog coverage under way right now!)
Here is where we can put our American sports provincialism into some kind of scale.
Compared with the worldwide interest in the World Cup, the Alabama-Florida game -- which should be one of the most-watched college football games of the decade -- is a blip.
Compared with the global interest in the World Cup Draw event, its domestic analogue -- Selection Sunday (heck, all of March Madness) -- is the equivalent of a Division III basketball exhibition game.
Millions and millions of people care about college football. Or college basketball. Or the NFL.
Billions and billions of people care about the World Cup.
That's why you can take this year's Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, NBA Finals, college football season, World Series and every game that Brett Favre or the Dallas Cowboys have played in 2009 ...
... Combine the audience for all of them. And you still get a sliver, as compared to the total interest worldwide for what is basically a guy reaching into a hat and picking out names for 20 minutes.
You don't have to like it. You don't have to respect it. You probably don't even care about it.
That said, Florida-Alabama is the biggest regular-season college football game in the modern history of college football:
• It's not just that it's 1 vs. 2. Or 12-0 vs. 12-0.
• Or that their game is beyond a "de facto" national semifinal playoff; they are playing directly for a spot in the national-title game (and, in all probability, the winner will take the national title itself).
• Or that it pits the two best coaches in college football. Or that it pits the country's best WR (Julio Jones) vs. the country's best CB (Joe Haden).
• Or that it is the biggest brand name in college football's core region versus college football's reigning dynasty.
• Or that it is the most pressure-packed game in the career of the most celebrated college football player of all time.
It's that this game has ALL of those things, combined.
(In fact, if you look at those qualifiers, this game reminds me of the Greatest Game Any Of Us Saw: Texas-USC for the 2005 national title. But that was postseason; of course, this is no less do-or-die.)
Michael Vick's Atlanta homecoming: Three months ago, this game seemed so much more intriguing. Then Vick didn't end up having the impact we all thought he would. Still: Vick back in Atlanta is the homecoming of the year in sports. My hunch: Falcons fans cheer him.
Vince Young vs. the Colts: Something's gotta give. Either VY's 9-game winning streak or the Colts' 11-0 start. I would give the nod to the Colts ... but do you really want to be the one to pick AGAINST the Titans right now?
More NFL Story Lines:
• Saints 12-0? (vs. Skins? Definitely.)
• Pats will take out MNF beating on Fins.
• Do-or-die for the Giants' season?
NFL Week 13 Picks: Eagles, Bears, Bengals, Steelers, Colts, Broncos, Patriots, Saints, Bucs, Jaguars, Chargers, Cowboys, Seahawks, Vikings, Packers. (Last week: 12-4, year-to-date: 125-52.)
Mark Sanchez is an idiot: Just this week, the team had brought in Joe Girardi to teach Sanchez how to slide. What happens last night? "The Sanchise" injures his knee plunging head-first, rather than sliding. The Jets won, but the story is Sanchez.
CFB Story Lines
• Texas vs. Neb: Horns BCS title-game-bound.
• Cincy at Pitt: Remember Pitt-WVU in '06?
• Clemson/GT play for ACC BCS bid
• LeFevour! Tebow Lite's reg-season finale
Oregon is Rose Bowl-bound: And the story is the Ducks' 1-2 RB combo of freshman sensation LaMichael James (166 yards, 3 TDs) and LeGarrette Blount, on the field for the first time since his Boise State punch, scoring a TD and running for 51 yards.
Notre Dame Watch: The minute Cincinnati's game with Pitt is over, I would hope Notre Dame would be on the phone with Brian Kelly. It is in Notre Dame's best interests to have him locked up by the end of the weekend, ready to announce Monday.
(Speaking of coaching carousels, it would be nice if Louisville was able to announce Florida D.C. Charlie Strong as their head coach on Monday. Not sure if Kansas will have a replacement for Mark Mangino by then -- tough job, too. I'd target Houston's Kevin Sumlin.)
CBB Mania: UNC at Kentucky on Saturday is the Non-Conference Game of the Year ... possibly the Regular-Season Game of the Year, period. The defending champs (fresh off taking out Michigan St.) against the one-hit-wonder wannabe Wildcats. Defining regular-season game for John Wall, who will almost assuredly only have one season of college hoops.
Overrated: Washington. After losing to Texas Tech, the No. 10 Huskies are going to take a tumble in next week's rankings.
NBA Talking Points: Remember Tim Donaghy? His story is on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night.
Why AI is awesome: Because he cares. No player works harder on the court, and no player has more passion for the game -- particularly when a connection with a city is as strong as it is between Iverson and Philly.
MLB Hot Stove: Phillies sign Polanco for 3Y/$18M. Refreshing to see the Phillies continuing to play to win right now, while their window to win pennants remains open. Giving a 34-year-old 3B a 3-year deal certainly qualifies.
Tiger Watch: It feels like this story has run its course. (See, was that so bad?) Who would have guessed that the person to show the most restraint in the entire week's affair -- heh -- would be Rachel Uchitel? (via TMZ... who else?)
Must-See Video: LeBron throwing a football full-court ... nothing but net.
The Last Word: "This means everything to me. I'm kind of at a loss for words." -- LeGarrette Blount, on finally getting back on the field for Oregon, just in time to help the team win the Civil War and return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the '94 season.
Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff.â†µ
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