On a long-ago suburban New Jersey winter night, a kid stares out the Buick’s back window at a repetitive landscape of modest single-family homes, many strung with Christmas lights, most of which would be wound into wire wreaths and put away for another year by this time tomorrow. The year, the “new” one, is less than 12 hours old at this point, the final holiday of a festive week, marking the added indignity of returning to school the following morning after a nearly two-week respite.
Being packed off to visit relatives on the last holiday until Easter was a far cry from an adolescent dream: I’d rather have hung out with my friends; but the truth of the matter, in those days, they were packed off, as well. Too old for forced play dates with assorted cousins, we were not yet old enough to have any independence to assert, and leaving us home alone was out of the question — even though the rest of the time our parents barely knew where we were. When not fulfilling these tedious family obligations, we were essentially on our own.
While we imagined other, more rural families, gathered around a roaring fireplace, we gathered around a television set, which, on New Years Day, meant watching bowl games. In those days, there were six or seven games and virtually all of them were on New Year’s Day, and — when coupled with an ample food supply — provided a reasonable distraction from the harsh reality of Christmas vacation being over for an entire year, which to us seemed so distant it might as well have been a decade.
The big games ... the only ones really: the Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Gator and Rose Bowls ... were glorious pageants, colorful celebrations, vividly described but viewed mainly in mid-century black and white, reflecting Eisenhower’s America. The floats in Pasadena’s Rose Parade may as well have been made of a onions and cabbages, so relentlessly humdrum were the visuals in the years before television was covertly redesigned to erode the will, creating consumers of us all.
With the National Football League still several years away from crushing everything in its path, including many of its own players, the college game was the focus of national attention. Oklahoma was the team to beat, amassing a 47-game winning streak in the mid-’50s that is still the record for consecutive NCAA victories and, given the parity of the modern college game’s top contenders, probably will stand forever. Although Oklahoma is still in the annual end-of-season mix, they have plenty of company these days with LSU, Clemson and Ohio State all contending for this year’s national championship game in mid-January.
While today’s Peach and Fiesta bowls will determine which teams play for the national title, there’s certainly no shortage of less illustrious confrontations out there to distract and amuse as the holiday season fades into memory. In fact, more than 40 bowl games are on tap this year, many hilariously sponsored, ranging from the Tax Slayer (formerly Gator) Bowl to the Camping World Bowl to the Belk? Bowl, which itself has been variously the Queen City Bowl, the Continental Tire Bowl and the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Conventional wisdom suggests the sports universe is maxed out on bowls with too many mediocre teams earning the equivalent of dreaded “participation” trophies. However, as hard as it is to imagine the necessity of the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl when we already have the Franklin America Mortgage Music City Bowl, there is a valid counter-argument.
We need to first acknowledge the vast majority of college football players are not famous. They’re not stars, nor are they going on to play in the NFL. There are approximately 81,000 players at all levels of the college game, over 99% of whom will go on to careers other than football. Appearing in a bowl game — even the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — marks a kind of commencement, the culmination of years of effort, training and getting banged around for a mere sliver of the glory. What point is there in depriving anyone of that experience?
Although I can still, all these decades later, too easily conjure up the vivid memory of that kid in the back seat, heading home, mourning New Year’s Day and the end of school vacation, my current lamentations are more state-of-the-world oriented, yet vaguely similar in that, like the kid, I have little control of their resolution. Maybe as he did, I should shelve my cynicism for a while and immerse myself in the last fling of nameless college athletes taking the stage one final time, giving it their all. As diversions go, it could be worse.
The choices are widely varied and paired with edibles of every description — from Beef’O’Brady’s ... to Chick-fil-A ... to Little Caesar’s ... to Buffalo Wild Wings ... to Tostitos, all bowl sponsors, there’s something for almost everyone. The offerings may be void of nutritional value, but they certainly make up for it in tastiness, and isn’t it time for resolutions anyway?
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.