Picking the first bowl game to watch on New Year’s Day in 1975 was a no-brainer, and not just because Jimmy Cefalo, a freshman, would be playing for Penn State in the Cotton Bowl. It was the only game on TV at 1 o’clock.
In previous years there always had been four bowl games on Jan. 1 with two, the Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, played simultaneously at or around 1 p.m. The Rose Bowl, from Southern California, always came on at 4 and the Orange Bowl New Year’s night.
That ’75 Cotton Bowl, by the way, was somewhat of a coming out party for Cefalo. He scored two touchdowns in a 41-20 win over Baylor and by the start of the next season, was named a pre-season All American.
But that’s not what this is about. This is about bowl games on New Year’s Day and how, God love us, we human beings have a penchant for ruining things.
There were 11 bowl games at the end of the 1974 college football season, and while, at the time, some may have argued even that was too many, getting invited to any one of them was a big deal. The New Year’s Day games, of course, were the jewels, but the Gator Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, played on Dec. 28 that year, had come into their own and the other five, the Sun, Peach, Tangerine, Liberty and Blue Bonnet bowls were prestigious in their own way.
The Blue Bonnet Bowl, played in Houston, Texas, I hasten to point out, was named after the state flower of Texas, not the margarine. Bowl games did not have corporate sponsors in those days.
Today there is no such thing as a bowl game without a corporate sponsor. And, except for the National Championship Game (presented by AT&T) on Jan. 8, no such thing as a bowl game invite that’s considered special.
Depending on whether you get your Pittston Progress, Saturday or Sunday, Penn State is either about to play in the Fiesta Bowl or already has. The sad thing is, it almost doesn’t matter. Because what was once considered an honor, an invite to the Fiesta Bowl, has been reduced to a yawn. That’s what we’ve done to this treasured tradition of college football. We made everything that isn’t the championship game the ho-hum bowl. They’ve all become consolation prizes.
The sheer number of bowl games today (up to 40, if I have counted correctly; 41 if you include the Jan. 8 game) hasn’t helped. Neither has the pursuit of profit. The PlayStation Fiesta Bowl? Really?
Or how about the few games left on New Year’s Day? The College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern Mutual hardly rolls of the tongue. And the College Football Playoff at the Allstate Sugar Bowl is only slightly better. Notre Dame plays New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl sponsored by Overton, previously the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, previously the Capital One Bowl.
This year’s bowl lineup also included the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, played Dec. 19, and the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, Dec. 21.
None of this is surprising because this is what we do in our society. We beat things to death.
Bowl games have gone the way of Disney movies, which also were once quite special.
Take “Sleeping Beauty.” It came out in 1959 when I was 10 years old. After its initial run in theaters, we did not see it again for more than 15 years. Then it was re-released and the nation was abuzz. I was dating a girl with a young sister. Taking that little girl to see “Sleeping Beauty” was not only a special, memorable event for her, but a tremendous point-scoring opportunity for me.
Contrast this with Disney’s “The Lion King” which came out in 1994. I was a dad by then and taking the kids was, if you’ll forgive the use of the same words, special and memorable. If only we could have left it there.
But no. We put our name on a list at the Disney store for when the movie came out in home video. When the big day arrived, we took it home and played it immediately. And played it again. And one more time before bed. The next morning, we put it on for breakfast. And left it on all day.
And by Sunday afternoon, if any of us even whispered “hakuna matata” we wanted to punch them right in the mouth.
We had taken something special and ruined it. Boy had we ruined it.
It’s too late to change these things, but for the new year, I resolve to do my best to keep special things special.
Wish me luck.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.