* HUT ONE: I’m gonna miss the little fella. There. I said it and I’m not ashamed.

I’m talking about Lou Holtz, who announced his retirement this week — actually, he announced the sentence “I think this is the right thing to do” this week, approximately 2,538 times during his news conference, which, by the way, is still going on down in South Bend, Ind., and is being carried live by ESPN6 — and yes, I have to admit, I got a little misty.

After all, whom will we have to pick on, year after year? Who’s going to whine about bad calls and evil pollsters? Who is going to say things like,
“This Rutgers team is the biggest challenge on our schedule.”

Only you, Lou. Only you.
* HUT TWO: OK, I admit Holtz was a great college coach. And he was a brilliant offensive mind during a game, which is pretty amazing, when you realize that, most of the time, he was pacing the sidelines like a stockbroker in October 1987. Back and forth. Back and forth. The groundskeepers loved him. After he was done, they didn’t have to mow the grass.
* HUT THREE: Here’s what I want to know: Is the guy who walked behind Holtz holding the headphone cord retiring, too? Or did he die of exhaustion?
* HUT FOUR: Wait. One more thing Holtz was great at: halftime adjustments. Sometimes his team was ripe for the picking after the second quarter, but by the start of the third quarter, it was an army. I attribute this to Lou’s halftime speeches, which always broke the tension. PLAYER 1: Man, we’re losing. PLAYER 2: Yeah, I’m down, man. HOLTZ: All right men! Listen up! PLAYER 1: (whisper) God, he sounds like Truman Capote. PLAYER 2: (whisper) Heh-heh. You’re right. HOLTZ: We can’t let this Rutgers team beat us. How would it look? PLAYER 1: (whisper) Get a load of coach’s glasses. PLAYER 2: (snicker) What a dweeb. HOLTZ: I wanna win, darn it! I wanna win! PLAYER 1: (whisper) Oh man, I can’t hold it anymore . . . HAHAHAHAHAHAAA! PLAYER 2: HAHAHHAHHAHAHAA! TEAM: HAHAHAAHAAHAHAHA! HOLTZ: LET’S GET ‘EM, MEN! TEAM: YEAH, LET’S GET ‘EM . . . OHOHOHO . . . HEEEHEEHEEE . . . HYUCK!
* HUT FIVE: Meanwhile, closer to home, we have Michigan-Ohio State. Once upon a time — I think it was September — this was projected as THE game. Two powerhouse programs would meet with undefeated records to decide which one went to the Rose Bowl.

Instead, the 10-0 Buckeyes know who’s going: They are. And they’ll rub it in. They might run out of the tunnel Saturday with their Pasadena plane tickets in their mouths.

As for Michigan? The Wolverines know where they’re not going. They might run out of the tunnel with train tickets to Memphis in their mouths.
* HUT SIX: I can’t believe it. We’ve been reading about the “dirty” Detroit Lions, and how our defensive linemen are a threat to the safety of the NFL’s quarterbacks. OK. Here’s what I want to know: If these guys are so good at hurting the quarterbacks, how come they keep giving up four touchdowns a game?
* HUT SEVEN: I mean, I truly hope these reports of dirty play are inaccurate. I shudder to think what the Lions would be like if they played “clean” football.
* HUT EIGHT: Principles are nice, but winning is better. That seems to be the subtle message in Green Bay, where the Packers this week picked up Andre Rison, which is a little like picking up poison sumac. Half the league can tell you what trouble Rison has been. And as late as Monday, Sterling Sharpe, the former Packers star receiver, said, on WJR radio, that Green Bay would never sign Rison because he “comes with too much baggage. They like the chemistry of the team right now.”

Of course, that was before the Monday Night Massacre to Dallas. It’s amazing what a little national embarrassment will do to your chemistry.
* HUT NINE: Hmm. Another Nebraska football player suspended for brushes with the law. You don’t suppose Tom Osborne will find a way to bring him back in time for a bowl, do you?

THE HUDDLE

* WHO’S IN THIS WEEK: Ahem. May I have your attention? After three years of expulsion, the ruling committee has decided to grant one last wish to Lou Holtz before he retires: he gets into The Huddle, this week only. Come on in here, you little palooka.
* WHO’S OUT THIS WEEK: Once Holtz is in, what’s the point?

THE PICKS

* OHIO STATE 34, MICHIGAN 21: No miracles. No shockers. No upsets. No fun.
* MICHIGAN STATE 23, PENN STATE 17: The Nittany Lions are beatable, provided you don’t hand them the ball six times.
* DETROIT 20, CHICAGO 17: Relax. I’m not predicting some miracle finish. It’s just that the Bears are not very good.
* DENVER 20, MINNESOTA 19: I don’t want to say we’re going overboard on John Elway, but when his face appears on TV now, I hear angels singing.
* WASHINGTON 20, SAN FRANCISCO 18: Let me get this straight. The Redskins and the Lions met for the 1991 NFC championship. Since then the Skins have 1) won a Super Bowl, 2) lost their coach, 3) missed the playoffs, 4) hired a new coach, 5) built the best record in the NFC. And the Lions have their same coach and are one game below .500.

OK. As long as I have that straight.

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