Say what you want about the College Football Playoff, but at least admit that — on a comparative basis — it qualifies as a neat, tidy holiday package, all wrapped up in shiny paper and topped with a bow and ribbon.
There are other opinions — from Central Florida, from the Group of 5 who want more access and from any number of others who think eight teams would be better than four.
Yet, despite that noise, the CFP without question anoints a champion that has proven its worth by winning two games against the best college football has to offer.
That has effectively eliminated most of the controversy — other than the usual banter that maybe the team ranked fifth should have been fourth.
But, let’s make the argument that — particularly in this year when the University of Notre Dame was placed into the Cotton Bowl — the entire scene is nowhere near as fun (and unpredictable) as it was when Jim “Hoss” Brock was the executive director of the Cotton Bowl Classic.
This is no slight of current Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker who has held that role since 1992 and is the consummate professional in the bowl business. No one does it better than he does in Dallas. All those who are part of the Notre Dame and Clemson programs are virtually guaranteed to have a fabulous time in Dallas (at least until kickoff), thanks to the buttoned-up Baker and his savvy staff.
Still, with the Irish headed to North Texas, Brock — who died a decade ago — assuredly somewhere is wearing his cowboy hat, holding a cigar (usually unlit), likely enjoying an adult beverage and smiling ear to ear at the fact his game landed two unbeaten teams.
Because, for Brock, in the years he wore his trademark green blazer and represented the Cotton Bowl (1979-92), all of the fun was in the pursuit. And what fun it was.
Certainly no current Notre Dame (or Clemson) player has any reason to know who Jim Brock was. While the Cotton Bowl lists former president Field Scovell — and even recent president Dan Novakov, a former Irish offensive lineman from the Ara Parseghian years — as its royalty, Brock represented a different sort of character (and caricature) based on the way he did business.
As Baker says, “His greatest passion was the Cotton Bowl. Texas hospitality was his chief commodity and nobody did a better job of selling it.”
Brock did not simply sell the Cotton Bowl — he slung it in your face in a way that made you love it.
A Fort Worth native and TCU graduate (he spent 13 years as sports information director at his alma mater), Brock reveled in the notion that, in his day, his only job was to “court” the best football team in the country to come to Dallas to play the Southwest Conference (now the Big 12) champion.
And Brock did that in his own virtually un-inimitable way.
Said former Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker, “He had an approach that wasn’t exactly Fortune 500.”
He called everyone he met “Hoss” — and so, in time, that became his own nickname.
One weekend in 1988, Brock came to South Bend for an Irish home football weekend and, as usual, spent a good amount of time pressing the flesh, hanging out and chatting with anyone connected with Notre Dame who cared to listen.
If it was 3 a.m. at the old Senior Bar, if he was leading renditions of the Notre Dame Victory March, if he was dispensing Cotton Bowl pins, if he was buying drinks for anyone in sight (and on site), well, that’s what bowl reps were supposed to do (details according to a Sports Illustrated profile by Alex Wolff).
Besides, said Brock, “Ain’t but 2 a.m., Dallas time.”
When former Irish coach Ara Parseghian helped convinced the University that playing in bowl games would help Notre Dame’s national title chances, the administration made it clear that Notre Dame desired to play the highest-ranked team possible in hopes of winning and improving its own ranking.
That’s how the Irish ended up in Dallas to finish the 1969 season (ending a 45-year absence from the bowl schedule) by playing unbeaten and top-rated Texas. They did the same thing the next Jan. 1, this time ending the Longhorns’ 30-game win streak. They did it again in 1977, again dispatching No. 1 Texas and winning a title for themselves.
There are few more recognizable scenes in Irish history than former Notre Dame athletic director Moose Krause returning from Dallas after that last Cotton Bowl win wearing what became his trademark cowboy hat. You can guess where the hat came from.
“I can’t tell you how many yards a halfback made, but I can tell you Moose Krause’s hat size,” said Brock.
A year later Joe Montana played his final college football game at the Cotton Bowl — leading the Irish back from a 34-12 fourth-period deficit in frigid weather conditions after gulping chicken broth at halftime to stem hypothermia. Montana threw the winning touchdown pass as time expired, Dallas native Joe Unis kicked the PAT, Notre Dame won 35-34 — and Krause proclaimed it the greatest comeback in Irish history.
Brock scored again in 1987 when he lured the Irish — led by Heisman Trophy winner and Dallas native Tim Brown — to meet Texas A&M. And Lou Holtz brought teams to Dallas to meet top-five A&M teams after both the 1992 and 1993 seasons.
Even the Cotton Bowl’s own website talks about how Brock “ruled the roost of college football” as “the bowl industry’s premier public relations man.” The entry for his Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame class says Brock “was on a first-name basis with the rest of the world. No such thing as a stranger.”
Brock charmed his way through life — and loved every minute of it. As Wolff wrote, “Just because he doesn’t know your name doesn’t mean he doesn’t know you.”
And he wasn’t necessarily above a little old-fashioned controversy. In 1992 Brock selected No. 5 Notre Dame to play unbeaten and fourth-rated Texas A&M, bypassing No. 3 Florida State. Some Bowl Coalition members objected. Brock didn’t care. He wanted Notre Dame.
A look at Notre Dame’s all-time postseason bowl ledger shows that the Irish already have played three more times in the Cotton Bowl than in any other bowl game (eight Cotton Bowl appearances including this one; five each in Orange and Fiesta). That’s not by accident — and Brock deserves more than a dollop of credit for that.
Former Cotton Bowl representative Jim Ray Smith once observed Brock and noted, “See what he’s doing right now? Some of ’em he knows, some of ’em he doesn’t. But he just grabs ’em and hugs ’em and hollers at ’em.”
In the old days, there was a supposedly strict deadline date on which bowl bids could officially be extended. That did not mean Brock was immune to a wink and a promise.
To gauge the interest of the athletic director of a team he wanted, Brock was known to ask, “If I’m at the corner of Akard and Commerce in Dallas, Texas, the last week in December, think there’s a chance we might run into each other?”
When Brock did his job, the answer was usually yes.
All those methods of doing business have fallen by the wayside now — and maybe that’s taken a bit of the fun out of the bowl season, certainly for anyone who remembers having even the most casual of encounters with Brock.
So, somewhere in the grand hereafter, Hoss assuredly will be looking down on the Dec. 29 proceedings at AT&T Stadium.
And, with all due respect to Clemson, he’s probably still wearing that green blazer.
During almost all of Jim Brock’s years representing the Cotton Bowl, postseason games pursued at least one of their participating teams on their own. Beginning with the 1992 season, some structure was added to the process.
Here’s a year-by-year (and even week by week in terms of rankings) listing for the years in which Notre Dame appeared in the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff standings:
Bowl Coalition (3 years: 1992-94)
1992: No. 5 Notre Dame played No. 4 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl
1993: No. 4 Notre Dame played No. 8 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl
1994: Notre Dame played No. 5 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl
Bowl Alliance (3 years: 1995-97)
1995: No. 6 Notre Dame played No. 8 Florida State in the Orange Bowl
Bowl Championship Series (16 years: 1998-2013)
1998: Notre Dame ranked 16th, 13th, 12th, 10th, 9th, NR and NR (final) and played Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl
2000: Notre Dame ranked NR, 14th, 12th, 11th, 11th, 11th and 11th (final) and played No. 6 Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl
2002: Notre Dame ranked 3rd, 3rd, 7th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 10th and 9th (final) and played North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl
2004: Notre Dame ranked 23rd, NR, NR, 25th, NR, NR, NR and NR (final) and played Oregon State in the Insight Bowl
2005: Notre Dame ranked 16th, 15th, 14th, 11th, 9th, 8th, 8th and 6th (final) and played No. 4 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl
2006: Notre Dame 8th, 9th, 9th, 9th, 5th, 5th, 10th and 11th (final) and played No. 4 LSU in the Sugar Bowl
2009: Notre Dame ranked NR, 23rd, 22nd, NR, NR, NR, NR and NR (final)
2011: Notre Dame ranked NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, 22nd, NR and NR and played Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl
2012: Notre Dame ranked 5th, 5th, 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 1st, 1st and 1st (final) and played No. 2 Alabama in the BCS Championship Game (later vacated)
2013: Notre Dame ranked NR, 25th, 23rd, NR, NR, 25th, NR and NR (final) and played Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl (later vacated)
College Football Playoff (5 years: 2014-18)
2014: Notre Dame ranked 10th, 10th, 18th, NR, NR, NR and NR (final) and played LSU in the Music City Bowl
2015: Notre Dame ranked 5th, 4th, 4th, 6th, 8th and 8th (final) and played No. 7 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl
2017: Notre Dame ranked 3rd, 3rd, 8th, 8th, 15th and 14th (final) and played LSU in the Citrus Bowl
2018: Notre Dame ranked 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd and 3rd (final) and will play No. 2 Clemson in the Cotton Bowl
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.