Saying Goodbye to An Old Friend
by Tony Gerdeman
“A friend hears the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.” – Anonymous
We met, like most friends in the late '90s did, in a college football chat room.
I was a college senior, and it was a couple of weeks after the top-ranked Buckeyes lost to middling Michigan State in 1998. Campus around The Ohio State University had an understandable pall around it, given that the Buckeyes' championship hopes had just rolled away from them like the punt that bounced off of Nate Clements' back.
The words popped up on the computer screen at the library.
“Hi! I'm The Obligatory Argument for Number Three. I make sure that teams outside of the top two in the BCS get mentioned as worthy and deserving title contenders. What's your name?”
“Tony,” I answered. Even though I was in a chat room, I wasn't really in any mood to chat. Sometimes I just preferred the distraction.
“Number Three”, as I call him, regaled me with stories and facts and data and arguments about how even though Ohio State had a loss, they still deserved to be mentioned as a possible BCS title contender.
Needless to say, we became fast friends. I took him with me to every campus party that I would attend. We would spend hours on porches just having a good time and talking about college football, and how Ohio State had built up enough of a resume to be considered a title contender despite the loss. They were some of the best times of my life, and it was because of him.
We grew apart soon after that 1998 season, but imagine my surprise when I saw him pop up on television for the first time a year or so later. There he was, living up to his name and stating the case for the number three team in the BCS. Arguing that things weren't as cut and dried as people wanted to believe. And he wouldn't always stop there, because he would speak for any team outside of the top two. He was basically college football's UNICEF.
He wasn't just limited to television, because he would also be seen in print, on the web and on the radio. He was everywhere. Sometimes he even showed up in places that he didn't belong, like immediately following Boise State's 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.
Every year I would see him on television, trying to throw a wrench where many times there were no wrenches. He once told me, “I don't always believe what I'm saying, but I always believe that it needs to be said.”
No, he was not without his foibles and contradictions, but that was part of his charm. His argument could change from week to week, but he was as regular as an alarm clock, and twice as loud.
He was dependable.
As I said, we grew apart. His calling took him out of Columbus, and scattered him to all corners of the country – sometimes even to the Big East. I know he never took pleasure when his job took him there, but you would have never noticed it by the way he stated his case.
He was a messenger, and he was always heard – even when he wasn't making any sense.
I made an attempt to get in touch with him in 2007, but I think he was too busy that year. I saw him in every form of media that season, stating more cases than a clerk of courts.
Still, even though I never got to talk with him personally after that 1998 season, he was always around, so it's like we were never really separated.
I think it's that connection that made it so devastating when I finally decided to try to get in touch with him earlier this week and was told that he was dead.
“The Obligatory Argument for Number Three dead?” I said to myself. “How did this happen?” I asked.
I was told that following Oregon's loss to Stanford, Number Three was found dead in his hotel room – an ax sticking out of his back. Mysterious circumstances, they said.
I'll never understand why he had to be taken from us so early when there is still a number three out there who could use his help.
Why was he silenced now when he has been given such a free run for so long? Since we met in 1998, he was out there every single year, arguing the sometimes inarguable, but he was still there. It didn't matter.
He may not have been providing the message that the people wanted, nor the message that they needed, but he was providing it nonetheless.
The Obligatory Argument for Number Three has been a part of my life for almost as long as he hasn't. He may be gone now – a victim who was just one year short of retirement – but I'm not ready to forget him just yet.
I will remember him because of the void that he has left. There will never again be a champion of his cause, because he was the last one. He is now gone, and the voice of the #3 team in the BCS is gone with him.
There is nobody out there banging the drums of other worthy teams. The drums are gone, the drummers no longer exist. Their arguments are dead.
I will always consider Number Three a dear friend, and he will be missed, but not by everyone.
And certainly not by those with axes to grind.
But who knows, maybe we'll see somebody like him pop up again some day. Provided it's a team other than Ohio State at number three, of course.
[The Obligatory Argument for Number Three is survived by his mother – The Obligatory Argument for Notre Dame, as well as his younger brothers – OMG The SEC and The Obligatory Argument for Number Five, who is a newborn.]
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