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The Least Popular Quarterback of All

Do you remember anything you learned in high school? I do.

For example, a puppet show demonstrating cellular mitosis, complete with "Love Theme from Cellular Mitosis," may not be the best way to get an A in biology. That staring at your feet, mumbling and blushing bright red every time you ask a girl out is not a recipe for success. And we mustn't forget that writing a story about Wilbert the Revolutionary Worm when you don't know the answer to the second essay question on the AP History test is not the recommended path to a passing score.

Of course, some of us also learned that writing an essay about Wilbert the Revolutionary Worm will, in fact, garner you a passing score on the AP History test.

But that's not the type of education you see on TV. No, from Dawson's Creek to Beverly Hills 90210 to Popular what you really learn about high school is that everyone there is beautiful and that given two girls, both equally likely to show up on the cover of Vogue, the brunette is the unpopular, ugly duckling.

But no matter how beautiful, popular and accomplished the lead female character is, she will invariably dump the chiseled quarterback with a chin dimple for the nebbish, deathly shy school newspaper editor once she finds out he's been in love with her since the third grade.

You know, just how it happens in real life.

Well, maybe not your lives. Apparently you readers have some issues with TV shows that purport to showcase those wonderfully painful years. Judging from the steaming pile of nearly three letters we've received about our review of the new WB melodrama Popular, teen-oriented series bring up some uncomfortable memories while reminding you of how TV high school qualifies as science fiction programming.

The cascade of e-mails had a recurring theme: how the good-looking girls all ignored the Toughskins-clad chess club captains and sweet, sensitive yearbook editors in order to go out with the loutish, brawny jock types who possessed table manners that would make a Neanderthal blush. Then when the popular girl found out you had been in love with her since the third grade, she slapped a restraining order on you.

As one of those demonized brawny jock types, let me respond: You chess club captains had it pretty good.

You say TV is unrealistic? Sure. After all, where's the awkward silence and teeth-gnashing agony when our hero discovers the popular girl he's just asked out -- solely on the basis of scuttlebutt that said popular girl is hopelessly in love with him -- is actually hot for a guy with the same first name and a last name that is an almost perfect homonym to his own?

But it wasn't supposed to be like that. My secondary school experience was supposed to be modeled after all those perfect dream lives you see on television. For I was that most celebrated, most blessed of teenagers.

I was a high school quarterback.

It all started out reasonably well. While I was a sophomore field general on the JV team, the varsity was led by a guy named John Erving, a senior that the vast majority of 10th grade males were in awe of. He looked like a soap opera's leading man, his parents were spectacularly rich, and he drove a Ford Bronco. But most of all, he made kissy-face with Susan Lange.

Susan was only a sophomore, but had already won universal acclaim as the most beautiful girl to ever walk the hallowed halls of our school. She was a soccer player, not a cheerleader, but other than that, John Erving was the perfect model of Hollywood's high school golden boy.

During our first game of that season, I injured my arm and had to drive to the hospital for X-rays. On the way out of the stadium, we passed the varsity warming up for their game later that night. Erving asked how I was feeling. It was unbelievable. He actually knew my name!

I had finally arrived! In a couple seasons, the sophomore guys were going to be in awe of me and I would be dating Susan Lange.

A couple games later, it was obvious that Erving sucked and he was benched. He and Susan broke up. She transferred out at the end of the year.

I turned a blind eye to all of this. TV wouldn't lie to me, would it? Two years later, everything would turn out all right. The Stanford, USC and Florida State recruiters would be fighting amongst themselves in the living room when Susan called to say she had returned for our senior year and, by the way, was I doing anything Friday night?

Junior season was much the same. The starting QB was a real popular guy and dated a gorgeous girl. He also was a lousy quarterback.

As a senior, I would live up to only one of those three precedents.

For some reason, the light generated from the popular kids didn't reach my particular high school social solar system until last Tuesday. And forget dating the cheerleaders, I was lucky if they even knew my name. When I'd drop back to pass the cheers would go something like "Don't throw another pick, Number 11!"

On the other hand, my offensive linemen, who evidently never read the Official Hierarchy of Football Position Sex Appeal, were very cool. They were the guys dating the cheerleaders and soccer players. One of them was the Homecoming King. All the while their quarterback, the guy they had sworn to take a bullet for when they recited the Oath of the Big Uglies, was reduced to putting a dress on the kitchen mop just so he would have a date for the Homecoming Dance.

Offensive linemen. For crying out loud, it's just not natural.

The stories you people send us always have a happy ending. Three days after being promoted to vice president, you run into the head cheerleader only to find her 50 pounds overweight, divorced from the alcoholic quarterback and trying to support a couple of rug rats while pulling down double shifts at the truck stop.

Victory over the cool kids is finally yours! This must be what Bill Gates feels like when he attends his high school reunions. Why doesn't TV show us that part?

How I envy you. A few months ago, I ran into a former cheerleader. I was surprised to learn she actually remembers me. I was further surprised by the fact that, a) she is more beautiful than ever, and b) she is engaged to a scrawny little Web Weasel, a man whose arms I could easily rip off and use to beat him to death. A man who celebrated the booming success of his IPO by asking her to marry him, thus scoring several hundred million dollars and one of the most gorgeous women in the world within a 12-hour period.

Revenge of the nerds, indeed. And I don't even get any empty, meaningless glory days to look back on during my night watchman's shift down at the cracker factory.

Somehow, I don't see my high school experience turning up on Dawson's Creek anytime soon, if for no other reason than I look a lot more like Richard Belzer than James Van Der Beek. That doesn't mean there isn't a place on TV for my life. I'm sure the producers of Freaks and Geeks are looking for some good stories, and "Love Theme from Cellular Mitosis" would make a snappy addition to any TV soundtrack.


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