Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, December 29, 2017, 8:08 a.m.
I could grouse about there being too many bowl games. Everyone else does. It’s fashionable, and I’m not wild about a pair of 6-6 teams playing each other in front of a crowd numbering well into the thousands.
Unless, of course, it’s a good game. Then it’s a good way to while away the hours, chipping away at a sports feature or a chapter of fiction. It’s pretty easy. Look up every time the announcer starts yelling.
Besides, without minor bowl games, where would Appalachian State, or North Texas, or Utah State, have to go celebrate a jam-up season?
I haven’t been to that many bowl games in person, and most of them were selected in advance because I wanted to go to the place. I got in this habit when I was a junior in high school. Four of us decided we wanted to go to the Sugar Bowl, not knowing what teams would play in it. Nebraska played Florida in the last edition of the game played at old Tulane Stadium. The Superdome was under construction when we rolled into town in my best friend’s yellow Chevy Nova with the beige vinyl top. He was the only one of us who had a new car. His was the most likely to make the trip without a flat tire or a steaming radiator.
We had no chaperone. Fortunately, we were all too young and naive to exploit fully the sinful opportunities of the Big Easy. The next time I saw New Orleans was almost forty years later, when I was less capable but more interested.
Can you imagine the parents of today allowing four teen-agers to drive all the way from Clinton, South Carolina, to New Orleans, Louisiana, to watch a football game? It was a different time. Adventure wasn’t so tightly monitored.
We booked a motel room in Gulfport, Mississippi, because that was the closest place we could find an affordable rate. It was unseasonably warm, and we decided we’d like to take a dip in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The four of us dashed across the beach and splashed up water that was … black. Oil rigs were in sight out there, and, apparently, a spill had occurred.
So much for that.
A lot has changed besides Chevy Novas with vinyl tops.
Nowadays I try to keep up. I’m wed to the past, though. The last time I played on a football team was the year after that Sugar Bowl was played on December 31, 1974. Based on my obsolete experience, I can’t imagine a member of a team deciding to sit out a bowl game because he might get injured, and getting injured might affect his value on the National Football League market.
I also can’t imagine a football coach skipping out on his team to take a new job before what should have been his final game is played. He’s no better than his ballplayers, and he sets an example that makes their actions plausible.
These are men who profess their love of team, game, the thrill of victory, and even the agony of defeat. I’ve heard men say with a straight face that they love it so much they’d play for nothing else.
That is, until they get that opportunity.
Not everything has changed. I still love it. It’s not the same, but nothing else is, either.
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