“Ranking football teams is an art, not a science.”
— College Football Playoff committee protocol
“You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died
If you’re still in need of something to read
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde”
— Bonnie Parker
GRAPEVINE, Texas — The College Football Playoff, the sixth-year championship system asking 13 committee members to pick four participants, is about numbers.
Strength of schedule.
Primarily: Hey, when can we have six teams, or eight?
But give credit to CFP director Bill Hancock for striving to explain. That includes a mock session each October in which 13 members of the media spend two days posing as the committee to better understand and communicate the process.
“We’d love to have you this year in Grapevine,” Hancock told me at SEC Media Days in July just after his annual State of the Playoff address in Hoover, Ala.
Did he say Grapevine?
The week before SEC Media Days I watched a new Netflix movie, “The Highwaymen.” It stars Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as Frank Hamer and Manny Gault, dogged Texas Rangers who tracked Depression-era outlaws Bonnie and Clyde.
Then I watched the 1967 classic “Bonnie and Clyde” and rewatched “The Highwaymen.” I was captivated by a “Highwaymen” scene that reportedly took place in Grapevine, when Grapevine was little more than a farmland crossroad between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Bonnie Parker — either a poor young West Dallas woman hanging out with the wrong crowd or a ruthless killer or something between — may or may not have shot a fallen cop in Grapevine. Which begged for research.
These days, Grapevine is best known for CFP committee decisions made inside the Gaylord Texan Resort, conveniently adjacent to the Dallas-Fort Worth mega-airport.
In 1934, Grapevine was an ideal rendezvous point for an iconic gang.
“Sure,” I said to Hancock.
The two-fisted goal Wednesday and Thursday was insight into the CFP sausage factory (and potential expansion) while learning more about Grapevine’s Bonnie Parker historical context without getting stuck in Metroplex traffic.
‘Study hard’ and ice cream
Fortunately, I have two former CFP committee members with South Carolina ties to call on for advice.
“Study hard,” said Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich.
Bobby Johnson, the former Furman and Vanderbilt head coach who lives on Johns Island, stressed strategy.
“Whatever you do,” he said, “make sure you sit near the ice cream cooler.”
The heart of the Bluebonnet Ballroom on the fourth floor of the Gaylord is a high-tech War Room. Committee members vote on CFP-issue laptops and sit at a U-shaped table surrounded by video stat charts.
Upon arrival, my fellow fake committee member Sam Blum of the Dallas Morning News immediately tries to stage a coup.
“Can we make this an eight-team playoff?” he asks.
“No,” Hancock says.
That’s because our mock drill is set in December of 2014. We travel back in time to the first year of the CFP. That’s when the real committee made its most controversial decision, leaving Big 12 teams TCU (11-1) and Baylor (11-1) out of the semifinals by ranking Ohio State (12-1) No. 4.
Indeed, 2014 as much as any CFP season — except perhaps 2018 when Notre Dame edged Georgia and Ohio State for No. 4 — screams for a bigger tournament.
Thunder for expansion this week comes from media members tied to conferences left out of the annual Alabama-Clemson party: Joel Klatt, a former Colorado quarterback who mostly does Big Ten and Big 12 games for FOX Sports; Yogi Roth of the Pac-12 Network; Greg Moore of the Arizona Republic.
The current CFP contract with ESPN runs through 2026, but I try to corner Hancock and current committee chairman Rob Mullens, the Oregon athletic director on hand to help us mock voters.
“If you had to bet your house,” I ask, “when do you think we will get expansion?”
Hancock: “I couldn’t guess.”
Hancock: “I really can’t.”
Mullens: “Fortunately, that’s not our role.”
Otherwise my main worry is getting muffin crumbs on the laptop to be used this year by a real committee member, former Clemson head coach Ken Hatfield.
‘The Highwaymen’ flaw
Most of what we know about Grapevine is a hotel meeting room.
Almost all of what we know about Bonnie Parker is Hollywood stuff. Faye Dunaway’s 1967 portrayal still smolders more than a half-century later, oozing with the Southern blonde sultriness that made film execs nervous.
Dunaway was 25, playing a 23-year-old Bonnie. Warren Beatty, at 29, produced the movie and starred as Clyde Barrow. “Bonnie and Clyde” snagged Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay … Dunaway lost to Katherine Hepburn (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”) and had to compete with Anne Bancroft (“The Graduate”) in a nominee list mirroring evolving culture.
The Arthur Penn-directed movie remains most memorable for its shocking final scene. The use of violence as art was virtually unprecedented. It influenced crime dramas and Westerns for decades.
Dunaway, of course, wore a white dress. Better to show off the blood splatter.
The terrific John Lee Hancock-directed Netflix version makes cops the focus all the way to a Louisiana ambush.
“The Highwaymen” won’t be the last time Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed on film. There is too much fascination here in Texas, including the Dallas Historical Society’s occasional “Running with Bonnie and Clyde” bus tour (9 a.m. to 2 p.m., lunch included).
People want to see the school Bonnie attended. Clyde’s boyhood home drew two tourists Wednesday, though no one was taking pictures of the ramshackle remnant of a café where Bonnie worked as a waitress on Thursday.
There was a stir in February when a Tarrant County clerk sorting Grapevine files stumbled upon an original Bonnie and Clyde murder indictment.
“I think Bonnie Parker was just a normal girl in her time,” Dallas Historical Society executive director Karl Chiao said. “She didn’t have a lot of money or fancy clothes or things that she wanted. She’s often portrayed as having this whirlwind romance and is suddenly able to buy expensive, fashionable clothes and live an exciting life doing things that were often completely off limits for women at the time and I think that has a real appeal for women, even now.”
I pull a rented Nissan Sentra barely inside the gates of a modest cemetery north of downtown Dallas. I cannot get a second foot out the door before a tall, muscular gentleman with leathery brown skin and a long shovel shouts from 20 yards away.
“Bonnie Parker?” Crown Hill Memorial Park manager Pete Guevara guesses.
I ask how many times he’s been asked.
“Well, I’ve been here 44 years,” Guevara says, “so I want to say a million.”
Bonnie Parker is buried aside her mother. Emma Parker, it is said, is responsible for getting Bonnie’s poetry published and for the inscription on Bonnie’s grave:
“AS THE FLOWERS ARE ALL MADE SWEETER BY THE SUNSHINE AND THE DEW, SO THIS OLD WORLD IS MADE BRIGHTER BY THE LIVES OF FOLKS LIVE YOU”
The grave is decorated this sunshiny Wednesday with one bouquet of flowers, a handmade birthday card, an orange toy pistol, many clothing buttons and several coins.
Next stop: West Dove Road in what was once Grapevine and is now Southlake. There, a granite memorial six-feet tall marks the spot where two police officers were gunned down on a beautiful Easter Sunday.
Not surprisingly, “The Highwaymen” got it wrong.
Dabo vs. bias
Dabo Swinney thinks the CFP committee got it right.
All five years.
That includes 2017, when Swinney publicly supported Big Ten champ Ohio State for the No. 4 spot over Alabama, which didn’t win the SEC West (Auburn did).
“I caught a lot of grief from Coach (Nick) Saban,” Swinney said. “I was on the bulletin board down there. But, obviously, they got it right. Alabama beat us (in the Sugar Bowl) and went on to win it all.”
Happy comes easy at Clemson; four straight playoff appearances, two of the last three national titles.
But anti-Clemson, anti-SEC sentiment is trendy outside the Pickens County-Tuscaloosa tailgate corridor.
“Not so much against Clemson or Alabama,” says Roth, a filmmaker and author who also was a wide receiver at Pittsburgh and Pete Carroll’s quarterbacks coach at Southern Cal. “It’s more the schedules of some SEC and ACC teams. I mean, Western Carolina?”
Deep into fake committee discussion Thursday, Klatt looks at an SEC-heavy, ACC-sprinkled mock top 25 board.
“This committee is very Southern,” he says.
Wes Gentry, the CFP’s director of administration and technology, chimes in.
“Hey, Joel,” he says. “Want some sweet tea?”
Bonnie and the trigger
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker as part of a Barrow gang that would commit 13 murders from 1932-34 was a little bit of a thing: 4-11 at the tallest, no more than 90 pounds including strawberry blonde hair. Clyde Barrow was 5-6, and just as skinny.
Fame and infamy got tangled up.
Though Bonnie and Clyde didn’t rob only from the rich and didn’t give to the poor, they were, like John Dillinger and "Pretty Boy" Floyd and other 1930s gangsters, favored by some in a land of foreclosed farms.
That changed on a dirt road in Grapevine on Easter of 1934, April 1.
State troopers H.D. Murphy and Edward Wheeler were checking on a parked V8 sedan. Gang member Henry Methvin apparently misunderstood Clyde’s orders to “take ‘em” — Barrow probably meant a brief kidnap not uncommon for the gang. Methvin began blasting away with a Browning automatic rifle, striking Wheeler in the chest.
Murphy went for his gun. Clyde was quicker with shotgun fire.
In “The Highwaymen” version, Bonnie walks toward the downed cops with a limp (she was injured in an auto crash). She mercilessly shoots one in the face with a shotgun.
That’s not what happened.
Jeff Guinn, author of the 2010 book, “Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” agrees with historians and investigators who have studied the killings.
The consensus is Methvin stood over the wounded officers and finished them off with a handgun. Bonnie might have been asleep in the backseat.
“Bonnie did not pull a trigger,” Guinn said. “Her supposed participation in the shooting was based on a witness whose testimony was later found to be completely made up. But his bogus account was printed in the early newspaper stories about the Grapevine shooting and few noticed the follow-up exonerating Bonnie from shooting anyone.”
The 2013 A&E mini-series “Bonnie & Clyde” also offers Parker (Holliday Grainger) as the point-blank shooter.
“As far as we know, she only fired a gun twice,” Guinn said. “Once in the air during a gang escape from a bungled bank robbery, and again in a hotel room when she accidentally fired a pistol and narrowly missed blowing off one of her toes.”
Most people agree on one thing.
Grapevine altered the narrative.
Murphy, 22, has been on the job just six months.
Wheeler, 26, was a four-year veteran.
Americans turned on Bonnie. It was over eight weeks later, on May 23, 1934. Hamer set a crafty trap near Gibsland, La., with the help of Methvin’s father, who pretended to have car trouble as part of an effort to get his son parole for his part in the gang’s crime spree.
A six-man posse emerged from a thicket and let go with 130 rounds as Clyde stopped the car with Bonnie in the front seat.
They say 20,000 people came to Bonnie Parker’s funeral in Dallas.
The Klatt-Clemson theory
Joel Klatt, I theorize, shaped a playoff system he criticizes as “broken.” As Colorado’s starting quarterback, he suffered a concussion during a 70-3 loss to Texas in the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game. He missed the Champs Sports Bowl against Clemson.
The Tigers won ugly in Orlando, 19-10, to finish 8-4.
With Klatt, the Buffaloes might have won. With an extra bowl loss, maybe Tommy Bowden eventually gets fired earlier than midway through the 2008 season.
If so, maybe wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney never replaces Bowden.
“I never thought of it that way,” Klatt says. “So you’re saying I’m responsible for some of that $9.3 million a year Dabo gets?”
The real members of the 2014 playoff committee had this final six:
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State
My smarter committee, surely influenced by Ohio State’s 2014 national championship game victory over Oregon, does this:
3. Ohio State
4. Florida State
What I learn Thursday inside the War Room:
• Nestle Tollhouse ice cream sandwich cookies are dangerously yummy (I blame Bobby Johnson)
• Trouble brews
It’s early in the 2019 season but imagine a not ridiculous scenario in which undefeated Alabama, undefeated Clemson, one-loss LSU and one-loss Georgia make the playoff.
That leaves three of the Power Five conferences whining.
If that happens, it will get hot enough outside the Bluebonnet ballroom in Grapevine to melt all ice cream within.
The test of time
The Grapevine memorial marker, unveiled in 1996, incorrectly states that officers Murphy and Wheeler were gunned down by “the infamous criminals, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.”
But standing here on a blazing hot October afternoon puts Bonnie in perspective. She was vicious. She stood by as wonderful people were murdered.
She helped ruin families for generations.
“It also has to be remembered that Bonnie was a willing member of the Barrow Gang,” Guinn said, “even if she did leave the gunplay to others.”
Officer Murphy was going to be married less than two weeks before he died; his fiancée wore her wedding dress to the funeral.
Wheeler had been married for two years.
There are eight bouquets of flowers at the base of the marker, which is just 6½ miles from the Gaylord Texan Resort.
The Dove Road legacy is a chiseled dedication to two dead heroes:
“THEIR EFFORTS WILL STAND THE TEST OF TIME, MAY GOD BLESS THEIR SOULS”
The memorial was overdue but it’s written in stone, still educating visitors even as College Football Playoff committee members strive for the same sentiment.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff