The thousands of Arkansas football fans who trekked to Lubbock, Texas, knew exactly what was at stake as they herded through the turnstiles at Jones Stadium that chilly, late-November day in 1977. Beat Texas Tech and their Razorbacks would be invited to play in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day. And that explains why so many of them stuffed oranges inside their parkas. They had a plan in mind, and it had nothing to do with mixing the fruit with vodka to make celebratory Screwdrivers.
Once the final gun sounded on Arkansas’ win, the raucous Razorback aficionados began chucking their oranges onto the field. At his post-game press conference, victorious coach Lou Holtz was asked what he thought of the fruitful shower.
“I’m just glad we are not going to the Gator Bowl,’’ he deadpanned, as the media room erupted in laughter.
Of course, had his team clinched a trip to this year’s Orange Bowl, he’d probably have to mention that it’s technically the Capital One Orange Bowl because, these days, every bowl has a corporate naming sponsor. And that can lead to some interesting tongue-twisters. Just try saying Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl or Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl 10 times fast.
I’m reminded of the time in 1990 when Syracuse University won the Jeep-Eagle Aloha Bowl in Hawaii. SU Coach Dick MacPherson was known to utter an occasional malapropism, and in his post-game interview, Mac not only got the automobile company’s name wrong (I believe he thanked Chevrolet or Toyota), but also screwed up the pronunciation of Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca’s name. Oh, well. Nobody held it against him. Nobody asked him to return the trophy or the hefty check the school received for participating. It was just lovable Mac being Mac.
Another bowl season is upon us, which means we are about to be bowled over. Not only by clunky corporate sponsor names, but also by a tsunami of bowl games. Seventy-eight of the 130 teams at the major college football level will participate in post-season play. The 40 games (if you include the Football Bowl Series playoff semifinals and championship) will feature 13 teams who finished the season with 6-6 records and 20 teams that went 7-5. There have been several teams with losing records that actually received bowl invites in recent years. Talk about rewarding mediocrity. Talk about overkill. And despite the robust payouts by many of the bowl games, most participating schools will lose money on the deal, with many of the games being played in half-empty stadiums.
I don’t mean to sound like one of those OK-Boomer-get-off-my-lawn geezers, but I long for the days when there were a handful of bowl games, and less meant more. During that bygone era, you actually had to earn your way into the postseason. Imagine that? You didn’t receive an “A” or a trophy just for showing up.
The football bowl concept can be traced to 1902, when the first Rose Bowl was played in a park in Pasadena, Calif. It originally was called the Tournament East-West Football Game and was born as a way to raise funds to defray costs for the immensely popular Rose Parade. The game became an annual event in 1916, and six years later the Rose Bowl stadium became the annual host — with the exception of 1942, when the game was played in Durham, N.C. because of fears of Japanese attacks on California during World War II. The Rose Bowl eventually became known as the “Granddaddy of Them All” and paved the way for the formation of the Orange, Sugar and Sun bowls in 1935 and the Cotton Bowl in 1937.
True post-season proliferation began in 1990. Twenty-five of the current bowls have started since then. Through the decades, a bunch of bowls have come and gone. Who can forget the Cherry Bowl or the Bluebonnet Bowl or the Glass Bowl or the Gotham Bowl or the Oil Bowl or the Refrigerator Bowl or the Raisin Bowl? Yes, there even was a Salad Bowl, which was played in Phoenix, Ariz. from 1947-1951, and was the precursor to the Fiesta Bowl. To the best of our knowledge, there’s never been a football game named after the Dust Bowl, a Depression-era term immortalized in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. But give it time, and some dust removal or vacuum cleaner company may decide it makes sense and dollars and cents to align itself with such a game. And if that happens, expect Steinbeck to start spinning in his grave.
Just in case we don’t have enough bowls, several more currently are receiving consideration, including ones that would be played in Dubai, Melbourne and Toronto. There is no end in sight because cable networks and internet companies are starving for more live content. And bowl games, even ones featuring undeserving teams, feed that need.
At some point, the bowl season will become like an Oprah show giveaway. You get a bowl game. And you get a bowl game. And you get a bowl game. It will be an everyone into the pool affair. What’s that? You say you didn’t win a game this season? No problem. We want to reward you with a trip to the Huskie Dog Bowl in Antarctica.
Oh, well. It is what it is. I’m just going to go with the overflow. I really can’t wait for the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl later this month. The cartoon feline pitchman for Kelloggs Frosted Flakes has told me it’s going to be grrrreat! I’m just wondering why it wasn’t named the Cereal Bowl.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. He will be doing book signings at the House of Guitars, December 14, 5-7 p.m.; the Greece Barnes & Noble, December 20, 5-7 p.m.; the Pittsford Barnes & Noble, December 21, 1-3 p.m, and the Webster Barnes & Noble, December 21, 5-7 p.m.