The History of Rankman, Part 1

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the character known as "Rankman" officially spouts off another season of lies, damn lies, statistics, favoritism, altruism, cronyism, low blows, cheap shots, Lubbock jokes, sanctimonious pithiness, phony-baloney self righteousness, SEC-baiting and illegal sentence formations. The only thing different is his posting address. He's moving from the Los Angeles Times, where he toiled for 34 years, the last 20 as the paper's national college football\basketball columnist, to the website venture known as The Media Guides.

That's right, the sniveling coward and countdown king is hiding being a pay wall he built and then--get this--demanded New Mexico State pay for. Why on god's Michigan State green earth would anyone pay to read the brain-droppings of a demented West Coast defender who graduated from a school that dropped Division 1 football more than 20 years ago?

Answer: well, hey, it may be crap, but what a bargain! Think of it like that old Yogi Berra joke about driving: "We're lost but we're making great time!"

A subscription to TMG is roughly the cost of a daily 1950. If we weren't called TMG we might be "The Daily Nickel." Ask yourself the question: are the collective brain cells of Rankman worth three draft pours of Firestone 805 a year? Or, five cups of a cafe latte at Starbucks?

Maybe not, but this will be the only place you can get the man who once dubbed powerful Pac 12 Commissioner: "Larry, King of Scotts."

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People ask me all the time: where was the character "Rankman" born?

For years the stock answer was either, "I don't know, or a log cabin in Boise."

Answering the question actually required researching the archives of the L.A. Times.

Here's the short-take reconstruction: It was early October of 1995 and I was minding my own general assignment business in the paper's downtown sports department when news broke internally that Gene Wojciechowski, who was my friend right up until this moment, was leaving for the Chicago Tribune.

Geno covered national college football and basketball for the Times and was really good at it. But he bailed in the middle of the 1995 college football season and just before the start of basketball. Back then, with our bottomless budget, we blanket covered this stuff the way ESPN does now when LeBron James gets the sniffles.

Sport Editor Bill Dwyre was really pissed off that Geno was deserting, not knowing Tribune would buy the LA Times five years later. There was no cake or back-slaps for Geno, only a terse, one-sentence memo from Dwyre that read something like: "Gene Wojceichowski is leaving for the Chicago Tribune. Some of us wish him the best."

The next move was Dwyre pointing his finger at me and calling me into his office, sitting me down and saying: "You're the new college football\basketball writer: How hard could it be if Gene did it?"

Truth: it was REALLY hard and, with a third child on the way that year, it cost me part of my stomach lining. I hated Gene for a short period of time, no more than 10 or 15 years, before realizing he had actually force-fed me into the greatest gig on earth.

Next, Associate Sports Editor Randy Harvey told me I needed to do a top-10 ranking the way Gene did. I balked at first because I didn't know enough about the teams to rank them. He kept insisting and I kept resisting but finally I found a way out.

Gene did his ranking with no comments. Most of his list mirrored the AP top 10. I said I'll do the ranking but only if I can add some snark if only to conceal my profound lack of mid-season college football knowledge. Harvey said yes, we extended the list to top 25, and "Rankman" was born.

Well, not quite. As I discovered in research, getting there was an evolution. The first hint of the name came in 1997, with my Oct. 17 comment for No. 5 Michigan (5-0). Rank Master says it's about time the Wolverines lose a game they shouldn't.

Rank Master? Where did that come from?

A few weeks later, Rank Master became one word: Rankmaster.

On Sept. 4, 1998, for reasons I can not recollect, No. 1 Florida State earned a comment from "Rank Man."

Fourteen days later, Sept. 18, 1998, the two words were married in a civil ceremony and "Rankman" appeared for the first time in the L.A. Times.

The name debuted in a combo-package comment for two neighboring-state schools.

No. 14 Virginia: Rankman always tries to pair the Virginias in polls whenever feasible.

No. 15 West Virginia: Woe is Rankman as Web Pal Amos Zereoue fails to return email message.

For the record: I have no idea what that comment about Zereoue means.

Anyway, that's the story of Rankman, who rose from the primordial ooze to become the actual writer's alter ego. Hiding behind Rankman has provided me joyous years of cover from things I would never otherwise say. The character allows me to give voice to the whispering devil on my shoulder.

So, thank you, Gene Wojciechowski, for leaving me in a lurch, with two ulcers. Thank you Bill Dwyre for knee-jerk reassigning me to the beat just to prove you could it before Geno cleaned out his desk. And, thank you Randy Harvey for ultimately making me do a ranking I didn't really want to do.

Viva la Rankman. Long may he poke and prod.

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