New Year’s bowls not what they used to be

I got invited to a New Year’s Day bowl game party this week. I haven’t been to a New Year’s bowl party since the Cotton Bowl was fairly important. People don’t have them much anymore.

One more thing to blame on the Bowl Championship Series.

Six college football bowl games will be played on New Year’s Day, which seems like a good reason to throw a party. Except that one is called the TicketCity Bowl. There’s also the Outback Bowl, the Capital One Bowl and the Gator Bowl, which for the longest time didn’t want a corporate sponsor, or couldn’t find one.

A news release dated Dec. 14 said the 2011 Gator Bowl featuring Mississippi State and Michigan henceforth will be known as the Progressive Car Insurance Gator Bowl. Yahoo! apparently isn’t buying it. It’s sticking with Gator Bowl.

Just to give old farts in leather helmets like me something to do, the Rose Bowl also will be played on Jan. 1. Except that Texas Christian is a participant, taking the place of one of the Pac-10 or Pac-12 or Pac-22 teams. The Fiesta Bowl also will be played on New Year’s Day. The Fiesta Bowl didn’t exist until I was 13. It wasn’t a big deal. One year Wyoming played in it.

This year Connecticut will play in it. Sometimes the Fiesta Bowl still isn’t a big deal.

I should have seen this coming.

I was sitting in Sun Devil Stadium on Jan. 2, 1987 — our seats were directly behind the Wrath of Hurricane Marching Band, or whatever they called it — when No. 1 Miami played No. 2 Penn State for all the Tostitos. (Although that year, Sunkist sponsored the Fiesta Bowl.)

Miami and Penn State were independents, and the only New Year’s bowl that would have them was the Fiesta. The game was moved to the evening of Jan. 2 so more people could watch it on television. And more people did. The Fiesta Bowl drew the largest TV rating in the history of college football.

The irresistible force of Joe Paterno’s white socks upset the immovable object of Jimmy Johnson’s hair, 14-10. Vinny Testaverde threw an interception in the end zone directly in front of us on the last play of the game. I didn’t see it because a tuba and two bassoons were in my face.

I am convinced this is where the BCS was born. Wrought. Forced down the gullet of the college football public in the manner of Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup.

All those people watching Paterno’s white socks and Johnson’s plasticized Max Headroom hairdo got the college presidents and the guys they give their money away to, the car dealers who wear brightly colored blazers and call themselves executive bowl game directors, thinking: Wouldn’t it be grand if we could match No. 1 and No. 2 every year?

It might have been easier just to have a playoff and make sure the car dealers got their cut. But they kept mashing the square peg into the round hole until they got something resembling a championship game and something they call a championship series. Championship series of what? Two guys playing lawn darts for a six-pack of beer seems more significant than this year’s Orange Bowl pitting Stanford against Virginia Tech.

This is a classic case of more being less on New Year’s Day. One game for all the Tostitos? Not a bad idea. But does it have to wait until Jan. 10? Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training by then.

Before the BCS, before corporate sponsors turned bowl games into shameless money-making endeavors featuring this 7-5 team against that 6-6 one, only the Cotton, Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls were played on New Year’s Day. And maybe Wyoming or Arizona State playing somebody in the desert, on a 9-inch black-and-white set stacked on top of the color one.

One of the games had national championship implications. Sometimes two did. Sometimes, if Ohio State or Michigan could complete a forward pass, it all was decided by the time the sun went down.

It almost didn’t matter. The Cotton, Rose, Sugar, Orange and sometimes the Fiesta — the Fiesta was to traditional bowl games what “y” was to traditional vowels — succeeded as a group. It was all the reason you needed to throw a party.

You watched the Cotton Bowl because it came on before the Rose Bowl — and because your buddy’s wife made some killer bean dip.

Football was on TV all day, and you didn’t have to work, and Lindsey Nelson’s sport jacket was giving the tint control on your TV a serious workout.

And a team from the West Coast played a team from the Rust Belt in the Rose Bowl, because Bear Bryant and the football gods wanted it that way.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352.

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