Welcome to the 2019-20 college football bowl game season! Try to contain your excitement.
The only college football bowl game I ever attended was back in 1968 when Terry Bradshaw and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs beat the Akron Zips (now there’s a great sports team name!) 33-13, in a cold and sparsely attended Grantland Rice Bowl in my hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In fact, it was the last Grantland Rice Bowl played there, as the sponsors moved the game to Baton Rouge the following year. I vaguely remember getting free tickets as a member of the 8th grade football team (yes, that was my one and only foray into the sport) and going with some friends. We knew that Bradshaw was good, but we may have paid more attention (and kept our ticket stubs) had we known that Bradshaw would be the #1 selection in the NFL draft the following year and go on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period.
As for the bowl’s name, Grantland Rice, one of the first well-known sportswriters of the early 20th century, was born in Murfreesboro. Recognized especially for his elegant prose, Rice is best known for being the writer who dubbed the great backfield of the 1924 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team the “Four Horsemen” of Notre Dame. This was a Biblical reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Rice’s famous account of the Notre Dame vs. Army game played at the Polo Grounds was published in the New York Herald Tribune on October 18:
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.
Now that’s writing deserving of a bowl name!
I bring this up because several years ago I wrote about the rash of silly college bowl names. I was prompted to comment on this turn-of-events after my father’s alma mater had just made it to something called the “BBVA Compass Bowl.”* My father and I were clearly thinking along the same lines, because the day before he’d sent the cartoon at the top of this post along with a link to a 2014 New Year’s Day article in the LA Times entitled “Bowl names are an embarrassment to college football.”
The author of both the cartoon and the article, David Horsey, thought that perhaps 35 bowls had somehow cheapened the prize. “Being a Rose Bowl champion or an Orange Bowl victor carries a tradition that means something special,” Horsey wrote in 2014. “Winning a bowl named after yet another restaurant chain—Outback Steakhouse, for instance—seems just a bit cheap.”
Well, here we are in the 2019-20 college bowl season, and there are now 40 bowl games to choose from. And there are still sportswriters opining on the nature of the names of those bowl games.
One of the best of the current crop of opinion pieces comes from Washington Post college football reporter Chuck Culpepper. He has written a delightful column entitled, “Bowl games should be named after things that grow from the ground. (But you can stay, Cheez-It.)” The last little caveat totally made me want to read the article, and I’m glad I did.
Culpepper sees the current trend as a personal attack on our national “brand.”
So many of our bowls have clunky names, which are an inveterate threat to our national coolness, yet we sit there inertly and take it even as everyone can agree that the cool bowl names involve stuff that sprouts from the soil.
Somehow we have named only seven of the 40 current bowls (for things that grow from the ground)…thusly: Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Peach, Potato and Camellia.
Special commendation goes to the Potato and the Camellia, so named in 2011 and 2014, respectively, for laudable attempts in a modern era to stem a dreary tide that claimed even the late, great Poinsettia.”
Culpepper clearly has some favorites from the past, such as the aforementioned Poinsettia and the Tangerine, that he’d like to see resurrected. He notes that, “As names go, the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl still ranks No. 1, lifetime, in overall funkiness.” And he clearly wouldn’t mind if the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl had to come up with a new name. Culpepper also has some suggestions in mind.
If I went to college and played for a team and told people later in life that I had played in a ‘Longleaf Pine Bowl,’ I would know I hailed from a country of singular vividness.
Treat yourself to a few minutes of laughter this holiday bowl season by reading Culpepper’s column. Who knows, you may decide just to skip this year’s BBVA Compass Bowl. Oh, wait. They dropped that name after 2014, and you’d actually be going to the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl on January 2nd.
Maybe we should all hold out until we get a Green Chile Bowl, Saguaro Bowl, Mesquite Bowl, or even a Salad Bowl.
More to come…
*BBVA Compass, for those who don’t know, is a bank holding company that is a subsidiary of the Spanish multinational Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria. You can see why they abbreviated it to BBVA for Americans!
Cartoon credit: David Horsey, LA Times