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It is midday, but the shades are drawn and the room is in darkness, except for the eerie blue light of a television set. Gradually, as our eyes adjust to the gloom, we see the figure of a man slumped in an easy chair. He is unshaven and wearing a bathrobe. An ice pack is clapped to his head, and he is staring transfixed at the set. Five hours will pass, but the figure will not move. This is New Year's Day, and across the land, the American male is watching the bowl games.

Watching bowl games on television has become a New Year's Day custom, like making resolutions. The entertainment, as in past years, will begin with the Orange Bowl (LSU-Colorado) in Miami (ABC, 1 p.m. E.S.T.), move on to the Sugar Bowl (Alabama-Arkansas) in New Orleans (NBC, 2 p.m. E.S.T.), the Cotton Bowl (Texas-Mississippi) in Dallas (CBS, 2:30 p.m. E.S.T.) and then the Rose Bowl (Minnesota-UCLA) in Pasadena (NBC, 5 p.m. E.S.T.). An adroit channel switcher can pick up most of the excitement from all four games and, hallelujah, avoid the bulk of commercials. As a tune-up, the viewer can watch the Gator Bowl (Penn State-Georgia Tech) two days earlier (CBS, 2:15 p.m. E.S.T.).

It is possible that there will be some people watching the game who know nothing about football but who by some mischance find themselves sitting in front of the television set with friends. For these people a short cram course is perhaps in order. Attention: Arkansas uses the monster defense (similar to the old Georgia Tech squirm), and Texas has a flip-flop offense. UCLA sometimes switches from the single wing to the W formation, Colorado uses a 4-3 defense and throws a lot of action passes. And Alabama has had great success with the whoopee pass (another name for the Utah pass).

It really isn't important to know what these different formations and plays are. What is important is to catch the name of one of the teams on the field and be able to say, "Oh, Arkansas. They use the monster defense." The others will stare with a mixture of bewilderment and admiration. Even that character sitting in the darkened room will be impressed.