Senator settles BCS bet

Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 2:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 2:30 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Forget all those inaugural concerts. The most pressing musical issue in the nation’s capital Wednesday was whether a stone-faced senator from Oklahoma could hit the high notes in “Rocket Man” to pay off a college football bet.

Turns out he couldn’t, but he gave it a shot.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn did his best rendition of the 1970s Elton John classic before a couple of dozen congressional staffers and television cameras, making good on a wager he lost to Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida when the Florida Gators defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 24-14 in last week’s BCS title game.

Nelson chose “Rocket Man” because he flew on the space shuttle Columbia as a congressman in 1986. If Oklahoma had won, Nelson would have had to sing the title song from the musical “Oklahoma!” — which also happens to be the official state song.

Coburn, whose daughter, Sarah Coburn, is a nationally acclaimed opera singer, warned that she didn’t get her talents from him.

“Genetics don’t have anything to do with opera,” he joked to the crowd assembled in a conference room in Nelson’s office. “If I could have gotten her here, believe me I would have. Elton John is a little tough.”

The conservative budget hawk, best known for giving Democrats fits by using procedural tactics to block spending measures, then stumbled through the first verse as he read the lyrics from a printout, occasionally straining for a high note as Nelson laughed and joined in for a partial duet.

Nelson, who spared Coburn from singing the entire song, said the football victory was sweet, but “this of course today makes it all the sweeter.”

It’s not the first time Nelson has won an unusual football bet with a Senate colleague. Two years ago, he perched on one knee over Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and counted as Brown tried to do 55 push-ups. The number equaled the total score of that season’s BCS title game in which Florida beat Ohio State 41-14.

Brown only made it to 43, and Nelson finished the rest.

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