By Brian Bainum
It is only 40 days and 40 nights, folks. In a little under six weeks, the Cal football team will take the field in front of over 100,000 fans at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, orange checkerboard end zone and all. That image alone is enough to put me on the edge of my seat and wake me up from a slow summer headlined by head-butts and threatened indictments. But just the other day I came across www.marshawn10.com, Cal's new promotional web site for Heisman Trophy candidate Marshawn Lynch. Like whoa.
Lynch has enough highlights in two seasons to last two decades of normal football in Strawberry Canyon. For me, it felt good to simply revel in it. I'll be honest, I felt a smile creeping across my face as No. 10 juked defender after defender, and eventually left a trail of Cardinal in his wake (55-yard Big Game touchdown in 2004, my personal favorite). His greatness, however, is not the point. The encouraging sign is that the Bears are aggressively showing him off. Forget flying under the radar. Forget modesty. Lynch may have a groundbreaking year this fall, but without a little propping up from public relations, don't expect any notable postseason award to come anywhere near Berkeley in 2006.
Remember J.J. Arrington? He was the nation's only 2,000-yard rusher in 2004 and only the third in Pac-10 history. He also led the nation in yards per carry (7.0), but wasn't even among the finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Anointing Lynch as the face of the team through the web site could help him gain more recognition than Arrington had. Of course, big performances in big games are a necessity to gain the exposure needed for any postseason award. But Lynch would probably still have to put up Arrington-type stats and hope the team goes undefeated to have any shot at being a Heisman finalist. One web site-no matter how cool-won't change decades of bias from certain regions of the country (cough, SEC) towards football on the left coast.
Still, the real winner in Lynch's promotion is the Cal football program as a whole. Imagine you are a five-star high school recruit. Sure, the USCs, Miamis and Ohio States of the world are very appealing places to play. But maybe the Bears make a push for you as well. Under Jeff Tedford, you get a winning program that is slightly less known, but not obscure enough that it can't effectively promote its superstars. It makes sense. Tedford has always been a coach that puts the needs of the team above any single player. He sat Lynch for the first quarter last year at UCLA for arriving late to a meeting. Big Game golden boy Steve Levy will be on the bench for the opener thanks to an altercation at a bar. There is no hypocrisy, though, in putting one player on a pedestal if it is for the good of the team. Marshawn10.com doesn't mean Tedford likes Lynch better than any other player on the roster. It does mean is that Lynch has been marked as Cal's definite leader. The message to Lynch is clear: In 40 days and 40 nights, it will be time to produce on the field.
If highlight reel footage is the result of that production, then all the better for the future of the Bears program.