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Originally published February 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 13, 2007 at 11:31 AM

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Jerry Brewer

National letter-of-intent day a sign of our obsession with all things football

In 1974, back when our raging football interest was still controllable, Jack Thompson paced in his home, uncertain. It wasn't so much national...

Seattle Times staff columnist

In 1974, back when our raging football interest was still controllable, Jack Thompson paced in his home, uncertain.

It wasn't so much national signing day then. It was just the deadline to John Hancock a piece of paper. No frills. No hoopla. There was neither a television camera nor a scribbling reporter in sight.

Thompson had a decision to make — Oregon or Washington State — and he was waffling, and it was nearing time for his morning commute to Evergreen High School. He waited for his father to get off the graveyard shift. Two coaches, Ducks assistant coach Carl Blackburn and Cougars assistant Mike Price, stood at his doorstep.

It was a different time.

"It wasn't that high-profile," Thompson said, laughing.

If Thompson were a recruit today, his experience would be much different. He was a phenom quarterback, and phenom quarterbacks hold news conferences on national signing day. Or they chitchat with the nation on ESPN. Or, if they're the quiet type, reporters hound them until they pick a school.

National signing day is now a huge manufactured event, a sign of how obsessed we get over pigskin, an appetizer for the beast we've created.

It's bizarre, more than anything. It's fueled by cyberspace. It's something to get us through the most boring month on the sports calendar.

Another weird one concluded Wednesday. ESPNU televised a special, seven-hour "election-style" coverage. ESPN.com did a six-hour running blog on the commitments. The mega-recruiting Web sites, including Scout.com and Rivals.com, ranked and analyzed the classes, using the logic of their differing rating systems.

Four years from now, we could look back and notice their work was filled with more errors than a fifth grader's American Revolution report. But we won't do that. We'll be too busy seeking analysis of the 2011 recruiting class.

It's everybody's fault, really. We've all had a hand in creating this monster. The media, for sure. Parents living the vicarious life, definitely. Overzealous fans, absolutely. The demand for information far exceeds a desire to protect children.

Overindulgence rules.

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As Oscar Wilde, that noted writer and would-be football philosopher, once said: "Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess."

That's why Wednesday morning began with a dramatic announcement: McKnight picks USC!

Joe McKnight, a revered running back from John Curtis Christian High School, opened ESPNU's program with a live news conference from River Ridge, La.

"I thought about it last night, and today I decided to go to the University of Southern California," he said before the applause began.

In Los Angeles, USC coach Pete Carroll wept. Gang wars ceased. And reporters scrambled to project the economic impact if he cheats and takes money like Reggie Bush.

And if all the talent evaluators have overrated him, no worries: The Trojans also signed the No. 2 running back in this class, Marc Tyler from Westlake Village, Calif.

In 1974, Thompson could be undecided without fuss. He was the cause of the only stress he had. He was just a humble kid, trying to do the right thing.

"Back then, if kids got publicity in the newspaper, it was a major to-do," Thompson said. "Nowadays, it's commonplace. We all just wanted to get invited to the annual scholar-athlete function. That was it."

Thompson chose Washington State, of course. Then he became known as The Throwin' Samoan. Then he became the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft.

He actually cried on his college signing day. (Which would've made for great TV, by the way.) He had become friends with Blackburn and had to tell the coach, in person, that he chose the Cougars over the Ducks.

Thompson was a Seattle guy who always wanted to go to Washington and be like Sonny Sixkiller, but Thompson never felt the Husky love during the recruiting process. So he felt fortunate Oregon and Washington State cared so much.

After his emotional goodbye with Blackburn, he welcomed a giddy coach Price into his home, did the required paperwork and sprinted to school.

"I don't even think we had fax machines back then," Thompson said.

Thompson, 50, isn't too old school about how wacky signing day has become. He considers the attention given to high-school recruiting "good and bad."

His biggest fear is a common one in sports these days. He's tired of young kids developing a false sense of entitlement. Hype is poisonous.

"Come on, they're high-school kids," Thompson said. "It's sick. They shouldn't go to campus with their noses up in the air."

Because, in football, those noses are easily broken.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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