- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Welcome back to the New Year's Day triad hangovers, resolutions and football.
That's wall-to-wall college football. If you can crawl to your couch and find the remote, you can spend the day convalescing with 14 consecutive hours of bowl coverage.
Frankly, today's slate features neither of the bowl season's most compelling games. Tomorrow's Orange Bowl, showcasing Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and USC (10-2) against Heisman runner-up Brad Banks and Iowa (11-1), promises to be the most entertaining. And Friday's Fiesta Bowl showdown between No.1 Miami (12-0) and No.2 Ohio State (13-0) is easily the most significant.
So, why will so many Americans invest so much time and energy on today's bowl offerings?
"It's a tradition," says Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan. "The bowl games are to New Year's Day what Santa Claus is to Christmas. They are part of the soundtrack of the season. And that's one of the reasons you haven't seen the introduction of a playoff already."
By all indications, a playoff is coming. Division I-A football is the only NCAA team sport to decide its champion without the benefit of a playoff. A recent poll conducted by the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post found that 90 percent of its responding readers were in favor of instituting a poll. And even bowl suits like Hoolahan are quick to acknowledge the inevitable.
"We've been heading in that direction for a while now," says Hoolahan.
The current system, in which a Bowl Championship Series formula determines the two teams which play for the title, is almost certain to remain in place through the 2005 season. That's when ABC's contract with the BCS runs out. But the combination of public opinion and enhanced revenue potential is almost certain to yield a playoff thereafter. Changes could be announced as soon as later this month, when the NCAA Executive Committee meets in Anaheim (Jan. 14) with a football playoff among the topics to be discussed.
"That committee is made up of 16 university presidents, only three of whom come from major-conference schools," says Capital One Bowl executive director Tom Mickle. "They seem to be of the opinion that football is already overemphasized, so they are not likely to approve an eight- or 16-team playoff format. I think the best you can hope for is a four-team format to determine the 2006 champion."
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the sports world's annual tribute to the pass. Revel in the overwrought pregame parades. Chuckle at the conjured enthusiasm for a game with no real implications. Marvel at the obligatory halftime extravaganza, a concept as hackneyed and painfully spent as Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.
And if you find yourself yearning for one principal to cheer or jeer for the madness, think of James Wagner. It was Wagner who first suggested to the Tournament of Roses committee in 1901 that a football game might bolster attendance at the group's annual parade in Pasadena. Wagner, a transplanted Michigan fan, suggested that the committee pay Ned Yost's Wolverines $3,500 in traveling expenses to come and play a California team. Thus the first Rose Bowl took place in 1902, Michigan burying Stanford by a 49-0 count.
Fearing another humiliation by the Easterners might do irreparable damage to the popularity of the parade, the committee dropped the game in favor of chariot racing over the next dozen years. Unfortunately, that concept was about two decades ahead of its time for L.A. (see Ben Hur 1925), and football returned as a permanent staple of the parade in 1916.
From the seeds of that first contest has grown this season's $200-million, 28-game bowl business. And just to put you in the mood for the pageantry at hand, here are a few of our favorite bowls, past and present:
Cigar Bowl (1946) In an effort to boost tourism and the country's upstart team, Cuba invites Southern Mississippi to participate in an exhibition against Havana University after the 1946 season. The Golden Eagles are poor guests, allowing the Cubans just one first down in a 55-0 drubbing. Relations between the nations haven't been the same since.
Glass Bowl (1946-49) Despite a 6-2-2 record in 1946, Toledo isn't invited to a bowl. Instead of whining about the oversight, the Rockets simply create their own bowl, naming it after the school's then-avant-garde stadium. Over the next three seasons, Toledo invites and then vivisects homecoming-caliber opponents from Bates College (Maine), New Hampshire and Oklahoma City. Then in 1949, Cincinnati has the audacity to beat the Rockets, and our offended hosts decide the Glass Bowl has lost its luster and cancel future contests.
Ice Bowl (1949-52) In what might now be called an XFL moment, one overly optimistic investor decides it would be great fun to hold a bowl game in Alaska. Nothing could be finer than football in Fairbanks. The game fails to attract power programs from the contiguous states and lasts only four years. Shockingly, most bowl scholars attribute the bowl's short life span to the frigid conditions that made passing impossible and allowed contestants to generate a total of three points in the first three Ice Bowls.
Mercy Bowl (1961) We just love the antithetical name. The concept is obviously lost on the Fresno State team that bludgeons Bowling Green 36-6 in the inaugural game in 1961. It isn't, however, lost on the game's Los Angeles-based organizers, who spike the bowl after that first and only debt-ridden disaster.
Humanitarian Bowl (1997-present) This sleeper pits a member of the forgettable Western Athletic Conference against a particularly desperate at-large team on Boise State's famed blue turf.
"The blue turf wasn't always a selling point," says Boise State groundskeeper David Bowles recently. "When we first got it [in 1986], there weren't any lines on it, and birds kept mistaking it for a body of water. Every morning I'd have to go out there with a shovel and scrape splattered bird off that turf.
"Eventually, though, people just kind of got used to the blue turf. Now, even though it's a little funny, it's tradition, you know?"
Yep, we sure do.


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