quarterback Sam Bradford -- Heisman-worthy.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With everyone -- except Chase Daniel -- basically assuming Oklahoma will steamroll Missouri in Saturday night's Big 12 title game, I decided to focus on the only competition in Kansas City that really matters: Arthur Bryant's Barbecue vs. Gates Barbecue.
In KC, it means just as much as Ford or Chevy, Lakers or Celtics, Republican or Democrat. SEC fans would understand it best like this: Just as children born in Alabama must pledge allegiance either to Alabama or Auburn, KC folks must choose between Arthur Bryant and Gates. The Brooklyn Avenue exit off Interstate 70 may as well be a referendum. A sign at the bottom of the off-ramp points to a Gates location a quarter-mile to the north and to the original Arthur Bryant a quarter-mile to the south.
To make an informed decision, I had to dine at each. I ate at Gates for lunch on Friday and Arthur Bryant for lunch on Saturday. As a Southern barbecue snob, I'm pleased to report that the ribs in KC hold up against the best 'que in Memphis, Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Newnan, Ga. But that doesn't answer the fundamental question: Am I, Andy Staples, being of sound mind and bloated body, an Arthur Bryant man or a Gates man?
We'll start with Gates. Naturally, I ignored ambience. A man who worries about ambience at a barbecue joint probably doesn't know pulled pork from brisket and really is better off sucking down riblets -- whatever those are -- at Applebee's. Here's a general rule of thumb regarding barbecue ambience: If you aren't being assaulted with a deadly weapon while eating your baked beans, the ambience is acceptable.
Much like chili-dog heaven The Varsity in Atlanta, Gates has rigid ordering system. Instead of "What'll you have?" incoming customers are greeted with "May I help you?" After I ordered a sampler plate -- ribs, brisket and ham -- I affirmed that my order was complete. Then I changed my mind and added a sweet potato pie.
The brisket and ham were entirely unnecessary; juicy spare ribs covered in a sweet, spicy sauce run the show at Gates. After inhaling the final bite of flaky, golden, sweet potato pie crust, I determined that, like Missouri on Saturday, Arthur Bryant would have to play a perfect game to take the title.
While waiting in a 30-minute-long line to reach the counter at Arthur Bryant on Saturday, I perused the photos on the wall. Steven Spielberg is a fan. So is Jimmy Carter. And, because barbecue can unite both sides of the aisle, so are John McCain and Sarah Palin. In line, a pair of Arthur Bryant veterans explained that I had to order the burnt ends, the blackened portion of a beef brisket slathered in sauce and served open-faced on white bread. I followed their advice and added an order of short-end ribs.
The ribs were meaty, juicy and just tender enough. The burnt ends, meanwhile, were sublime. If the Tigers defenders can cover Oklahoma's receivers the way those burnt ends covered those quartered slices of Wonder Bread, expect BCS turmoil tonight.
So, after careful consideration, I have decided I am an Arthur Bryant man. The Gates folks among you may think less of me from this point forward, but I must trust my palate. What does this mean for the game? Well, the standard uniform at Arthur Bryant is a crimson apron. The enduring symbol of Gates is a man in black tie.
Draw your own conclusions.