CHICAGO - Listening to 11 Big Ten coaches speak at the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon is like watching 11 consecutive off-tackle plays, none of which gains more than three yards.
Coaches' humor often rivals a draw play on third-and-10 that fools absolutely no one. But it's the intent that counts.
Illinois coach Ron Turner, who has gone from 0-11 his first year in 1997 to 8-4 last season, said he used to take walks in the country, "And even the horses, cows and pigs turned their backs on me."
Northwestern coach Randy Walker said he only got "flipped off" twice driving in from Evanston yesterday, a sure sign of incremental acceptance.
Indiana coach Cam Cameron stated that IU basketball coach Bobby Knight sent his regards and that all of us in attendance would get invitations from Knight to a backyard barbecue (yes, there were unspoken fears of human sacrifice).
Cameron joked that he was traveling with Knight recently and told Knight how much he thought of Paul Brown and that when he got to heaven he would personally convey his feelings to the former Cleveland Browns coach.
Cameron said Knight quickly interrupted him and said, "Wait a minute, what if he's not in heaven?" Cameron replied, "Then I'll let you tell him."
Even staid Michigan coach Lloyd Carr attempted a run at a funny, stating that he always thought the media was smarter than most coaches after the AP pole made the Wolverines its No. 1 preseason pick in 1997. Carr said his feelings quickly dissipated yesterday when he saw that Michigan was picked to win the Big Ten title this year.
An unofficial modern-day kickoff luncheon record was set when the word "parity" was not used once. It must have had something to do with a conference directive. Because parity certainly persists.
But a new term was coined, "The holy trinity."
That, of course, would be Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez was asked if his team could be mentioned in the same sentence with the holy trinity based on the success the Badgers have had in recent years.
Alvarez diplomatically answered by saying that those of such pious persuasion earned their distinction by sustaining success over a long period of time, but that Wisconsin certainly could be mentioned in the same breath over the last few years.
The so called holy trinity is being transfigured, and not just by throwing in some cheeseheads and calling the new monarchy the "hallowed foursome."
While Michigan was picked to win the conference title, Wisconsin was picked to finish second, followed by Purdue. The Big Ten only announces the top three vote-getters because it doesn't want to "embarrass" its remaining members.
Holy Toledo! What happened to the remaining two-thirds of the "holy trinity?"
Since Penn State entered the Big Ten football chase in 1993, at least two members of the holy trinity have finished in the top three six times. Twice they finished one-two-three.
But here's a little trivia question. What Big Ten team became the first to win three Rose Bowls in one decade and the first to win two back-to-back? Answer: Wisconsin.
Ohio State coach John Cooper said there isn't a team on the conference schedule he can consider a bona fide victim, when not too long ago sheer talent alone could trample some of his Big Ten brethren. His 6-6 record last season, which didn't include a bowl game, would bear that out.
Minnesota coach Glen Mason told about one of his assistant coaches having a hissy fit when he read where the Golden Gophers were picked to finish eighth in the conference. The Gophers went 8-4 last season, its four losses by a total of 15 points.
Mason explained that Minnesota wasn't going to be picked ahead of the holy trinity. Wisconsin is the defending Rose Bowl champion, Purdue has maybe the best quarterback in the country in Drew Brees and Michigan State was ranked seventh in the country at the end of last season. That left the next slot between Minnesota and Illinois, the Illini winning out based on their victories at Ohio State and Michigan.
The final consensus was that maybe the Gophers were darn lucky to be picked eighth.
From this vantage point, it looks like Wisconsin should win the title, followed by Michigan and Purdue.
With all due respect to Northwestern, here's the remaining eight in order: Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa and you know who.
"We've been called a lot of things at Michigan, but part of the holy trinity, that's a first," Carr mused. "We'll use that in recruiting as best we can."
It's all about perception, but the holy trinity currently faces some saintly adversaries.