Bowling for the New Year
At my age, and after a lifetime of changing perspectives on just about everything, there aren't that many rituals that take me right back to early childhood, other than the passion of Election Night and the feeling of renewal that accompanies Easter Morning in every variety of Christian faith.
But then there's New Year's Day, when every single atavistic southern chromosome in my body drives me to a television to watch college football.
It surely ain't what it used to be. In those pre-ESPN, pre-BCS days of my childhood, you would get in front of your black-and-white television with its three channels right after a gut-busting lunch of turkey and ham, and switch back and forth (without benefit of a remote) between the Sugar and Cotton Bowls. After a brief break from eating still more wonderful and non-nutritious food, you'd tune in to the Rose Bowl, followed immediately by the prime-time Orange Bowl, which would usually end at about midnight. There was no "championship game" unless a traditional bowl was lucky enough to get a number one/number two matchup, and no trophy presented on national TV.
Us serious college football fans were dimly aware at the time that there were big monetary stakes involved in these New Year's games (with the Rose Bowl being the richest), but none of us could have told you the payoff for a particular bowl within a hundred grand, which was real money then. And there were no--repeat, no--corporate sponsorships of bowl games, no Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, much less bowls named completely for the sponsor like the ludicrous Continental Tire Bowl (it's a small miracle that small children will not be exposed this year to a Viagra Bowl, but just wait).
Tomorrow morning, I will not be able to follow the exact ritual of my childhood, because my team, the Georgia Bulldogs, will be playing at 11:00 a.m., in a bowl named after a certain pseudo-Australian steak house known for its inspired variation on the traditional southern onion ring. I probably won't bother with the later bowls, just as my interest in the March presidential primaries has lagged unless the outcome happens to matter.
But for at least three hours, I will join my distant cousins and red-and-black-state compadres in watching every play from the money-stained, corporate-dominated Outback Bowl, making barking noises where appropriate. This will signal my own recognition of the continuity between the year passed and the year ahead, and the importance of ritual in coping with an era that seems dangerously evergreen.