Take This One at Face Value

Football games can mean many things to many people, and the Independence Bowl game between Alabama and Oklahoma State could have different meanings to more different factions of people than some religious texts.

Like many bowl games, in one context this will be viewed as a stepping-stone or a stumbling block into next year. A mid-tier bowl game is often viewed as the beginning of the new season instead of the end of the old one. Signing Day and spring training are right around the corner, and despite the fact Alabama does not have a permanent head coach in place, summer workouts, fall camp and the 2007 season opener will come barreling around the corner at light speed.

Some might see it as a referendum on Joe Kines' stint as interim head coach, or even as a tryout for a permanent head coaching position.

Kines has guided the team very well through the past month. All of Alabama's scholarship players maintained eligibility for the bowl game and players have stood firmly behind Kines. Though National Signing Day is over a month away, the staff's efforts on the recruiting trail seem to have most Alabama verbal commitments hanging in to see what will happen.

A resounding win against Oklahoma State on Thursday might be exactly what Kines needs to put an exclamation point on his dark-horse candidacy to be the next Crimson Tide coach.

Mike Shula's staunchest supporters will undoubtedly use the game as part of what they might call mounting evidence that Alabama made the wrong decision in firing him.

In that sense it is a no-lose proposition, because of Alabama wins it will be Shula's players who won. If an unstoppable offense emerges it could be the breakout game that was in the works all the while. And if Alabama loses it will be further proof that the problem with the squad wasn't with Shula at all – that it was something else unrelated to his job performance.

For underclassmen like Simeon Castille the game will be a tribute to a group of seniors who have mostly show courage and class through quite a bit of turmoil, even though that designation is not quite unique in recent years. One of those seniors is Simeon's brother, Tim.

Here in Shreveport, however, there is an heir of excitement about this game for altogether different reasons, and they are simple ones. This is a game between two good-but-underachieving teams from two power college football conferences. They are glad to have these two teams in the Port City and excited about seeing them take the field. The Shreveport Times has been filled with coverage of the teams, including a quarter page picture of Gene Stallings in Wednesday's issue and a write-up of a PlayStation simulation (which included Marc Guillon and Tyrone Prothro playing) of the game.

Alabama's trip to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas a year ago had its advantages of course: a bigger payout, nicer gifts, a bigger and more well-known city, and an insane variety of things to do and see (including the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and the NHL's Dallas Stars), but Shreveport's got heart. That is a credit to the bowl organizers and the people of Shreveport.

There is a genuine excitement about an SEC-Big 12 showdown here among everyday locals, too. Shreveport has a quality that Alabama fans could appreciate. There are no professional sports nearby, and pro football interests are split more or less evenly between the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints.

But this week it's about the Independence Bowl – Alabama vs. Oklahoma Sate - and the number of locals who could name either head coach is miniscule. To read too much more into the outcome Independence Bowl would be to forget the true importance of the game.

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