Hey," the cry would go up across the land at almost any hour of the afternoon or night during the last two weeks of December, "let's turn on the TV. Maybe we can catch another postseason classic."
And, sure enough, the set would spring to life and there would be two great—or at least fired-up—college football teams going after one another, with turnovers galore and Eddie Doucette saying, "That was almost awesome, Lindsey Nelson." Or Jack Drees saying, "And believe me, that's unbelievable." Or Doucette again, saying, "This is one of those games where both coaches are such great personalities that you'd like to see both of them win. Unfortunately it doesn't always work out that way."
The Peach, pitting the Wolfpack and the Mountaineers. The Fiesta, in which the Sun Devils burned out the Tigers. The Gator; the Sun; the Liberty; the Astro Bluebonnet. And others that were not even on television but were taking place somewhere just the same, whispering low their seductive names: Camellia, Tangerine.
Call them semi-classics. Or off-bowls, or near-bowls, or saucers. They make up that vast, expanding gray stretch of extravaganzas that falls annually between the mass of regular-season games and the big-four cluster of honest-to-God time-honored bowls, which are hard enough, themselves, to keep straight in your mind when you wake up on Jan. 2.
"On Dec. 30," says J.S. of New York (or any city with more than two channels), "I did my best. I watched the Sun in its entirety and then the Gator with quick flashes of the East-West Shrine. All this with a fuzzy overlay of Peach from the night before. Then I took an hour off. Went to a holiday open house at the home of a friend. Had a couple of drinks. Went back to the bedroom to get my coat. My friend's TV set was on and the Astro Bluebonnet coin toss was under way. The referee was signaling that LSU was to receive. His arm movements were being aped by...a tiger. A person in a tiger suit, standing right there next to the LSU co-captains. I think it was a tiger. It may have been a bear. A Big Orange. Some being out of Astroworld. A Golden Buffalo. A Yellow Jacket. Miss Best Western Motels. It might have been anything. Everything ran together. I fancied I saw a tremendous alligator swallowing the sun, with majorettes and members of the Air Force Reserve presenting themselves, to thunderous music, on the great reptile's back. I...I don't know. My head swam. It wasn't even New Year's Eve yet, and all the major bowls still lay before me. It was too much for one fan to handle."
It could be, then, that the bowl picture has spread itself too thin. Certainly the off-bowls this year entailed so many other-than-household names that the announcers kept getting them wrong. "You know," said Irv Cross, "I've been sitting here all day calling [Texas Tech Starting Quarterback] Joe Barnes Joe Burns." Doucette once referred to a "back named Hooks, who had a bad ankle, as Ankle.
It is self-evident, further, that no nation's viewers should be confronted with endless halftime sessions of off-bowl officials receiving congratulations ("You've got a great spectacle, George"). It is true that two teams (Iowa State, Missouri) emerged from off-bowls with, respectively, 5-6-1 and 6-6 season records.
It also is true that no bowl in which one running back (Woody Green, Arizona State) gains 202 yards on the ground and another (Brent McClanahan) on the same team gains 171 can be taken too seriously—although the opponent was Missouri, a respected Big Eight team.
On the other hand, it must be said that this year's off-bowls produced a lot of rousing football. The Liberty, in which fill-in Quarterback Jim Stevens led Georgia Tech to a 31-30 squeaker over Iowa State—whose head coach, Johnny Majors, had already accepted a job elsewhere—was as full of improbable twists as the two teams' in-and-out regular seasons had been. And outside the stadium there were NAACP pickets protesting the suspension of first-string Tech Quarterback Eddie McAshan. And at halftime there was a depiction of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack—life-size models of the two great ironclads scurrying about on scores of little feet.
The Sun Bowl—North Carolina 32, Texas Tech 28—also went tortuously down to the wire. In the Peach, North Carolina State, starring the freshman Buckey twins, showed a refreshing disdain of the field goal and punt and an almost unseemly zest for touchdowns, swamping West Virginia 49-13 and passing like crazy on into the closing seconds. The Astro Bluebonnet presented the effervescent Condredge Holloway (once, improvising, he pitched back to his tight end) leading Tennessee to a 24-3 halftime lead, and LSU—so far from dismayed it did your heart good—turning the tables in the second half for a 24-17 finish that came very close to being much closer than that. Never has there been such hugging and ecstatic jumping around among defenders on both sides as there was in that off-bowl, and Auburn was almost as high spirited while upsetting Colorado 24-3 in the Gator.
Furthermore, on-the-field action aside, who would have missed the sight of Georgia Lieut. Governor Lester Maddox riding in apparent terror atop, a world-champion-caliber walking horse at half-time in the Peach? Who can forget the sudden video-portion manifestation—right amidst the Gator action—of a phalanx of wildly different-sized youths in civilian clothes? Where did they come from? They stepped forward, two by two, as though for introductions, and after a moment Bill Flemming commented: "I am at a loss to tell you what that is."
Oh, what the heck. Maybe such moments make it all worthwhile. Maybe the only way to go is onward, and there should be not fewer bowls but more. A Growl Bowl, pitting the nation's two best teams from among all the Tigers and Bulldogs and Nittany Lions and the like. A Jowl Bowl, for those whose coaches have reached a certain age and weight. A Soul Bowl, for church-affiliated powers. (There is already a Pelican Bowl whose winner claims the national black-colleges championship, Grambling won this year, beating North Carolina Central 56-6.) A Hole Bowl, for colleges located in terrible towns. A Toll Bowl, Parole Bowl, Bull Bowl, Foot Bowl, Self-Control Bowl, State Patrol Bowl, Jelly Roll Bowl.
What do you mean, almost awesome, Eddie Doucette?