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Bumper crop of slogans

If you've read it, just stick around, there'll be another on the next car

This is a Bumper Sticker proclaims a bumper sticker seen through freeway traffic. This message is as much in self-defense as it is wry. Since the rise of the automobile in the early part of the century, we have been inundated with bumper stickers. From the early cardboard signs wired to Reos and Cords—like SEE NIAGARA FALLS and VISIT CARLSBAD CAVERNS—to the current crop of spicier phrases, the bumper sticker has become a form of rolling graffiti, an American folk art, and a brand of mobile advertising that declares our preferences for sports teams, religions, dating games and political persuasions.

In sports, the changes in stickers can provide a mini-history of a team's fortunes. Over the past two decades, Green Bay has seen slogans go from HERE COMES THE PACK to THE PACK'S BACK, to the latest, PLEASE, PACK, COMETH BACK.

So it is with some alarm that we hear of the probable passing of the bumper sticker, and that it will not cometh back. Aaron Cushman, head of the Chicago White Sox' public relations firm, laments, "The cars being built today don't have the right kind of bumpers. You can't attach anything to that narrow rubber strip around the bumper, and if you put the sticker above or below it, you can't read the damn thing." So the bumper sticker, too, may well become another victim of progress. But while the new bumpers may be designed to save big money in fender-bender accidents, we would hate to think that never again would this nation be enlightened by such witticisms as the Montana sheepman's invention, 10,000 COYOTES CAN'T BE WRONG—EAT MUTTON.

Happily, enough cars remain with sticker-sized bumpers to ensure survival for a while, at least, and sports fans seem to own a fair share of them.

In sports, there are two classes of stickers. Professional and college teams have long used the signs as a form of advertising with simple, often dull, slogans. But beginning in the '60s, the bumper sticker came to personalize autos with a variety of sporting messages, from the time-honored THINK SNOW—a prayer by Eastern skiers—to SPLIT UP THE FAMILY—TRY GYMNASTICS.

The pros and the colleges are trying for "recognition penetration" (a corporate phrase for advertising clout). Usually a team will merely display its logo and a simple phrase like GO BO SOX. Literally millions of these and others like them appeared on cars in every major sports market across the country. But fans get bored with such banality, and sometimes they take matters into their own hands. When Terrible Ted Turner breezed around Newport during the America's Cup races, his Atlanta Braves were becalmed at the turnstiles while the team sticker read THE BRAVES MEAN BUSINESS. Around Atlanta now, an answering sticker proclaims, THE BRAVES NEED BUSINESS. One of the better sports stickers can be credited to Boston Bruins fans. During the years when Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito were rewriting NHL record books, the most visible sticker in Boston read JESUS SAVES—AND ESPOSITO SCORES ON THE REBOUND.

In colleges, where advertising budgets are more modest, stickers serve as a cheap means of identification. "We've got probably the largest bumper-sticker program in the country," says the University of Maryland's athletic promotion director, Russ Potts. "We've put more than 150,000 GO TERPS GO stickers on cars in the Baltimore-D.C. area. That gives us more penetration in terms of volume than any pro team in the country. The competition here is fierce for leisure time, and we do well. We never change our sticker. We don't identify the year or single out the sport. That keeps the cost down." It also makes for a boring time driving around Baltimore.

The University of Indiana, however, prints up a different sticker for each of its Big Ten football games, and fans of the University of Nebraska, who could no longer take the school's stale GO BIG RED, have pepped up the interstates with such spinoffs as GO BIG REDNECK and PROCEED, LARGE CRIMSON.

Of the pro sports, soccer has provided some of the more recent bestsellers, from Tampa Bay's SOCCER IS A KICK IN THE GRASS to L.A.'s YOU BET YOUR SWEET AZTEC.

But it was participation sports and pastimes that led the way in both humor and unprintable bumper stickers. The sticker with the greatest circulation probably is VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS, with more than a million distributed free by that state's tourist bureau. In personal recreation, the I'D RATHER BE SAILING (golfing, swimming, diving, water-skiing, etc.) is still seen around the country, with an interesting new spinoff that speaks directly to the commuter caught in a frustrating traffic jam, I'D RATHER BE IN A COMA.

The furor over gun-control legislation gave us both sides of the coin, from hunting enthusiasts' TAKE YOUR BOY HUNTING—INSTEAD OF HUNTING YOUR BOY to the conservationists' KEEP MARYLAND SAFE—SHOOT EACH OTHER, NOT ANIMALS. And environmental issues have been well covered on bumpers as well, from New England's SPLIT WOOD, NOT ATOMS at Saybrook's reactor site, to the more whimsical KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL—SWALLOW YOUR BEER CANS. Tennis players also are in the act with is THERE SEX AFTER DOUBLES? and LOVE MEANS NOTHING TO A TENNIS PLAYER. And motor sports fans: DRAG RACING—WORLD'S SECOND MOST EXCITING SPORT.

It often seems to the highway driver that the country is a sea of separate enthusiasts, each bent on declaring his love for a sport, a pastime, a politician or a philosophy. A Georgetown University psychiatrist, Dr. William Flynn, says, "Bumper stickers are a form of personal expression, but a curious one. This is a way of saying what you believe without getting involved. Unlike graffiti, which are completely anonymous, bumper stickers say, 'This is me, but I don't have to look you in the eye to say it.' The bumper sticker is a kind of passive declaration for folks who want to identify with something, but don't want to get involved personally."

Now what will become of this unique American expression of wit and belief? Can it be that the bumper sticker is being transmuted into the window decal?

"From our experience, people like window decals a lot better than stickers," says Baltimore Colts Business Manager Ed Rosenbloom. "You can fit them in a lot of different places; you can even put them on bumpers if you want. I figure we give out about 100,000 decals every year."

If you are a purist who still likes a good sticker, you might want to display your anger at their passing with a University of Tennessee MY BLOOD RUNNETH DEEP ORANGE. And, of course, there is still hope. The National Safety Council is keeping a disapproving eye on window decals, fearful that they may cause accidents by obstructing drivers' vision. How about this sticker for the purists: STAMP OUT WINDOW DECALS.