- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

In plenty of towns in this country — places like Knoxville, Baton Rouge, Madison and my all-time favorite, Iowa City — college football is the unquestioned king this time of year.

The residents of these towns live and die with each weekend’s game. They take pride in their schools. It becomes a part of their lives. A loss in South Bend ruins the economy for a week.

There’s another place, though, where college football is king: inside NFL locker rooms. We all went to school somewhere, and no matter how long it has been since we moved on to the pros, we all continue to follow and take pride in our old college teams.

There’s nothing better than walking into Redskin Park on a Monday morning, fresh off a big victory by your alma mater. And there’s probably nothing worse than walking in after your team loses.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have eaten my own words from time to time, but I’m looking pretty smart this year. The Iowa Hawkeyes have won five in a row, soon to be seven. But I’ll get back to that. …

It all starts on Saturdays. Between meetings and practice, we all check out the televisions throughout Redskin Park, trying to catch a quick score. If your school is losing, you’d better hide or get out to practice early. Everyone is fair game Saturday. There is no love lost here.

There is a period between practice and the Saturday night meeting during which you usually can watch the end of your school’s game. Those of us whose teams win can’t wait to get to that meeting. Those who come up short try and slip into their seats without making too much noise.

Road trips are a little more interesting. From the moment we take off until the moment we land, we are shut out from the college football world. No scores, no highlights — just the never-ending discussion of which conference is the best. Actually, this might be the discussion to end all discussions. There is no way to decide this, but let me tell you, we all try.

When we do land, everyone’s cell phone pops out immediately as we check the scores. I’ve seen some guys get real quiet on the bus ride over to the hotel. For others, it’s time to start gloating.

And don’t let it be an upset. Guys still will be talking about that game after Saturday night’s late snack. And if it’s a huge upset, it will be talked about on the plane ride home the next night. You never hear the end of it.

As much as we care about games themselves, the best part of college football season as far as we’re concerned actually might be the week following a game. Few Saturdays go by without a head-to-head showdown between the alma maters of two Redskins teammates, and that can mean only one thing: It’s betting time.

There’s no money involved in these things. This is far more personal. If your team loses on Saturday to a teammate’s, you’re probably going to be spending the next seven days in shame, wearing some kind of paraphernalia recognizing the guys you lost to.

I’ve seen it all — hats, jerseys, even guys’ old letter jackets. It is downright disheartening to wear another school’s jersey for an entire week.

Put it this way: Suppose you are a Michigan fan or, even better, an alum. Your guys lose to Ohio State in late November. On Monday, instead of putting on your suit for work, you pull that Ohio State jersey over your head. I would be sick to my stomach.

Now, players don’t wear suits to work, but you do stand out with a college jersey draped over your body instead of a Redskins sweatshirt. For that entire week, everyone (media included) knows you lost. You didn’t play in the game; you weren’t even there. But it is your alma mater, and in our eyes, you are just as responsible for that loss as everyone else.

Trust me, it’s all in good fun. You should be proud of your school. If you’re not, well, I guess you haven’t won in a while. For the rest of us, guys whose annual New Year’s plans revolve around watching your school play in a bowl game can’t seem to take a breath while talking them up. I love it.

Speaking of New Year’s, I am confident my Iowa Hawkeyes will be there again. Along the way, they will be playing Wisconsin, and it so happens we have an ex-Badger or two on our roster.

Guess I better dust my old college jersey off. I can think of a couple of guys who would look pretty good in it.

Ask Matt

Q: What is your favorite NFL uniform? And don’t say the Redskins or Bears, because you’re too emotionally attached to each!

A: I would have to go with the Falcons for the best uniforms in the NFL. I love the red jerseys and the black shoes, but I’m still a throwback guy with the Redskins, Raiders, Bears and Packers.

Q: How are you passing the time these days without football? Needlepoint? “Judge Judy” marathons?

A: Since the injury, I have become the best Tiger Woods 2005 player out there.

Staff writer Mark Zuckerman collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them tobowencolumn@aol.com.

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