Holiday Bowling (The Football Kind)

The college bowl game system is an acquired taste. Much like Limburger cheese. Those that favor it can’t say enough good things about it. To everyone else it stinks to high heaven.

Consider this:  Almost every single organized sport known to man plays their exhibition games at the beginning of the season. College football chooses to do so at the end. Why?

Two reasons.

First, what else are they going to do in the absence of real live playoffs? You know, the kind that virtually every other organized sport engages in?

Second, in a clandestine meeting held decades ago, the mayors of every city that houses a major university resolved the following:  For just one week each winter, their respective student bodies should get obnoxiously drunk and throw up in somebody else’s town for a change.

And thus the bowl system was born.

Washington Preps For Opening Kickoff

Despite full knowledge of the above, I generously gave the entire “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour staff a long weekend off, closed down the stately HQ complex, and headed down the coast to San Diego. It was time for the steeped-in-tradition Pacific Life, er Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl!

All was calm on the outer fringes of the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot, where The Bird and I had navigated to find a spot for our tailgate picnic. Fans of both the Universities of Washington and Nebraska were having a bite, a beverage and a few laughs. Footballs were passed, and beanbags were tossed at logo-emblazoned wooden targets. Americana at its best.

Unfortunately, as we headed into the stadium and passed by the “organized” fan tailgate parties, Americana at its worst was on full display. It seems some students had stumbled upon the concept of “alcohol” and found themselves a little tipsy. But who could blame them, given what was at stake in the Big Game. Because the winner would get…well, come to think of it, they’d get absolutely nothing.

Now you don’t have to hit me over the head with a two-by-four more than a half dozen times to get my attention. And I had learned only a few weeks earlier that sitting in the upper deck of Qualcomm Stadium was an exercise in duck and cover. So when it came time to procure tickets to the Holiday Bowl I went upscale.

Fortunately that was easy to do.

See, in a Ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff gleam with pride, the way ticket distribution works for bowl games is this:  In exchange for the honor and privilege of being invited to a bowl game, the respective universities are contractually obligated to buy thousands and thousands of tickets – ostensibly to re-sell to their faithful fan base. Which works out fine if your faithful fan base is interested in buying them.

Football Fans Disguised As Empty Seats

If they aren’t…

Let’s take the University of Connecticut, for example. Through some fantastically convoluted logic (read “BCS System”), the Huskies – an unranked team with an 8-4 record – were deemed worthy of playing in the super-elite Fiesta Bowl, a prime time New Year’s Day event. There was just one catch. They had to buy from the Fiesta Bowl 17,500 tickets at a cost of roughly $3.5 million. By three days before the game they had managed to resell fewer than 5,000.

UConn is a state school. My folks live in Connecticut and pay taxes there. I’m sure they are delighted that a portion of their taxes went toward subsidizing some casual football fan living in Phoenix, who paid $3.99 on the internet (plus $287.60 in handling fees) to attend the game. It’s like sponsoring a child through UNICEF, without that pesky “making that decision for myself” stuff.

So as you can imagine, there were “plenty of good seats still available” when I came calling on StubHub.

We entered the stadium at the main concourse level and spawned our way around to our section number. Once there, we were directed to “go down the white tunnel” to the Field level. I’m guessing that this is what Sports Fans experience when they die – they go through a tunnel bathed in bright white, to emerge on the other side in something akin to paradise.

There were no drunks. No students pushing and shoving their way through the crowd. In the space of less than a minute, we went from rowdy and obnoxious to collegial pageantry. We looked around in wonder.

If you’ve never sat at field level in a 60,000 capacity stadium, you may want to try it. The teams are down there. The band is there. The cheerleaders. The camera crews. The VIPs. Of course, you can’t actually see the field because of all of the above, but you’re definitely in the middle of IT. It was pure bliss for people-watching.

         

The pre-game ceremony was highlighted by the arrival of members of the Leap Frogs, an elite group of Navy Seals who are trained to stealthily parachute to pinpoint locations behind enemy lines. They nailed the “pinpoint location” part. As for “stealthily”? You make the call…

I’ve never sat so close to a big-time cheerleading squad, and I have to admit that the Washington contingent was impressive, keeping up a nearly continuous stream of dancing, crowd-imploring and assorted acrobatics. I started to wonder if pulled cheek muscles (the kinds on their faces) were a common injury among cheerleaders.

Then again, with that wardrobe, I’d be happy too. It was a cold night in San Diego – which I know sounds like an oxymoron. No, it wasn’t Frozen Tundra-esque, but seeing a cloud full of vapor appear when exhaling is not a common sight for SoCal residents – and few of us have a ready supply of scarves and gloves. The cheerleaders though…

As the evening wore on, they added layers. Then more layers. If the game had gone into overtime, they would have been reduced to nearly total immobility – wobbling around like purple and white Sta-Puff marshmallows.

         

They certainly didn’t possess the same fortitude as those that comprised what we took to calling The Frozen Blue Snowflakes. Unbeknownst to us, this dance troupe was seated in the rows in front of us, so imagine our surprise when about halfway through the second quarter, dozens of teenage girls rose en masse and began peeling off layers of clothing to reveal flimsy blue dance costumes.

I immediately contracted hypothermia in sympathy.

They headed off into the recesses of the stadium and emerged onto the field after the Washington and Nebraska marching bands had done their halftime thing. They brought with them yet another marching band, a huge inflatable wizard with a pit crew of about a dozen, and seemingly everybody that comes after “five golden rings” in The Twelve Days of Christmas.

And if that wasn’t enough stimulus overload, the accompanying fireworks display made Independence Day with the Boston Pops look like a couple of bottle rockets and an M-80 that malfunctioned.

It was pure over-the-top spectacle. It was pure fun. It put the capper on an entire evening of cheesy sideline shenanigans that unfolded between us and the field.

Oh yeah, there was a football game too. More accurately, there was some football played in between an onslaught of television timeouts and sponsorship messages. And it was deadly boring. Washington beat Nebraska 19-7, avenging a regular season 56-21 loss.

“This game is half football and half commercials,” complained a frustrated Bird about mid-way through the third quarter. Well…if you really want to be specific, it wasn’t actually a 50-50 split. It was a sixty-minute game that ended three hours and 40 minutes after it kicked off. You do the math.

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