I love bowl season. It starts 10 days before Christmas and ends six days after New Year’s. And gift-giving isn’t a requirement.
If I could go to any or all of this season’s 35 bowls, here is my order of preference. Yours may differ. If yours doesn’t differ, you probably have severe emotional problems.
1. Rose Bowl: This is as serious a choice as I’ll make. There is only one bowl game. This is it. If you’ve been there, you know. Wisconsin people know. They’re forever spoiled for Gator Bowls and such.
2. Holiday Bowl: It’s San Diego on a Thursday night, and two teams that are exciting and should be happy to be there in Baylor and UCLA. Well, UCLA wanted to go to the Rose Bowl, but it plays there seven times a year, so why be greedy? By the way, why Jim Delany didn’t keep the Holiday in the Big Ten’s bowl mix all those years ago still mystifies me.
3. New Orleans Bowl: I put this ahead of the Sugar Bowl because it’s not such a cluster of humanity, and it’s still in New Orleans. You can take the money you save from not paying Sugar Bowl prices, and have a fantastic dinner after the game. Plus, Louisiana-Lafayette against East Carolina just sounds like a game that would produce some good voodoo. Or bad voodoo. Ragin’ Cajuns against Pirates? Fantastic.
4. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Washington doesn’t grab me, but the beauty of this is you don’t go to the game. Go to Vegas, put a wager on the game in some sports book, go about your Vegas business.
5. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Many people would put this at the bottom of the list. The fools. The concept of a bowl game between mediocre teams in downtown Detroit on the day after Christmas has always appealed to me. That this year’s game is Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky makes it even more mediocre than usual. That the Big Ten seldom honors its commitment to send a team to the game is something I love. That teams spend Christmas Eve looking out their hotel windows watching snowflakes descend on Detroit … I get choked up thinking about it. Iowa will never fall that far because it brings too many fans to bowls. Pity.
6. Orange Bowl: I love Miami. That’s not a largely shared opinion in the Midwest, where I live. Or in many other parts of the U.S. But I love Miami. I like feeling like I’m in a foreign country while I’m still in America. I like warm weather, though warm weather was strictly a rumor during Iowa’s last Orange Bowl stay, three years ago. I even like Art Deco. And I like this matchup between big, established, football old-money Florida State against the upstart Northern Illinois Huskies. If I were at this game, I would sit with the Huskies’ people, abandon all objectivity, and cheer like a madman for dear old NIU.
7. Pinstripe Bowl: To be in the south Bronx on a winter afternoon with several thousand people from West Virginia … halluciogenic.
8. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Come on, does this need any explanation? The best bowl name, the strangest bowl site of all 35, blue turf, and teams from Utah and Ohio converging in Idaho. It’s too bad the game is Saturday. It should be on New Year’s, giving it two more weeks of build-up.
9. Hawaii Bowl: SMU playing Fresno State on Christmas Eve in Honolulu. You couldn’t make this up.
10. Music City Bowl: I’m a Vanderbilt fan. In the monstrous football entity that is the SEC, private-school Vanderbilt with its more-rigid academic standards somehow competes. And it’s playing a bowl game in its home city of Nashville. Wouldn’t it be wild if Vandy is the only SEC team that wins its bowl this season? I’m told the odds are 28,834,473-to-1 against it.
11. Sugar Bowl: The Florida-Louisville matchup is dry toast, but hey, New Orleans. As John Goodman said in “The Big Easy,” they do things diff’rent in the Big Easy.
12. Cotton Bowl: The matchup, Texas A&M-Oklahoma, is terrific. Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium is the space-age site. Johnny Football will be there. That’s not his real name.
13. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Did I say the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl had the best bowl name? It’s tied with this one. Nothing about seeing Arizona State play Navy in a baseball park appeals to me except for the fact the game is in San Francisco. It would have been better last year, though, when it pitted 6-6 Illinois against 6-7 UCLA. Navy and ASU have winning records. Boring.
14. GoDaddy.com Bowl: First of all, Go Daddy! That company employs a lot of people in Hiawatha, next door to Cedar Rapids. And they all work at a place called Go Daddy! Next, give me a Jan. 6 bowl between Arkansas State and Kent State in Mobile any year, but especially this one when both teams’ head coaches fled for greener pa$ture$ after the bowl-pairings were announced.
15. BCS Championship: I have little interest in the Alabama-Notre Dame big, big, big deal, but I’m happy it’s in Miami where it can get swallowed up and ignored by the locals.
16. Fiesta Bowl: Oregon against Kansas State is a fun matchup, but the stadium is in Glendale. It looks like a UFO that has landed in Roswell. Driving by it at night in the rain, as I did two years ago when I led three friends from Mesa, Ariz. to Las Vegas on a harrowing journey through the heart of darkness, will scar you for life.
17. Sun Bowl: I’ve covered two of these, and spent some time in Juarez, before it was declared the Murder Capital of the World. If you’re a Sun Bowl team, you are dragged to Juarez for a bloodless bullfight as one of the official bowl activities. Or you were back in the ’90s when Iowa played there twice. A bloodless bullfight? What’s the point of that?
18. Liberty Bowl: I’m going to this one for the first time later this month and am kind of looking forward to it. I stayed in Scottsdale for my last two bowl-trips. Scottsdale is safer, cleaner and warmer than Memphis. But Memphis has about four billion times more soul, musically and otherwise.
19. Poinsettia Bowl: San Diego’s No. 2 bowl. San Diego State vs. BYU. Both of those programs played against Iowa in Holiday Bowls. See my earlier complaint about Jim Delany.
20. Armed Forces Bowl: The game, Rice vs. Air Force, isn’t something I’d spend two minutes watching on TV. But I’ve always wanted to eat chicken-fried steak with cream gravy in Fort Worth, a la Billy Clyde Puckett and Marvin “Shake” Tiller.
21. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: It gets points for being on the Arizona State campus in Tempe. But this year’s edition won’t be like the Insight Bowls of the last two years, when there were actually people at the game. Michigan State against TCU? Meh.
22. Outback Bowl: I’ve covered three of these and three were plenty. But you can count on the weather being good and the stadium being nice. What I like best about Tampa, though, is it isn’t Orlando.
23. Alamo Bowl: Hooray for a bowl site where you don’t need a car. You cab it to your hotel, you walk to the Alamodome for the game, and you try not to fall into the Riverwalk’s canal after stepping out of restaurants and nightclubs. Most people succeed. Most. The thought of being surrounded by Texas fans at this year’s game, though, knocks this bowl down a few slots.
24. Chick-fil-A Bowl: I’ve spent about five weeks of my life covering events in Atlanta. A few days of that was a Peach Bowl between Iowa and North Carolina State. Utterly forgettable. The thing I most remember is that Roy Orbison died a few weeks before the game, and after a Peach Bowl press conference I asked Iowa Coach Hayden Fry if he knew Orbison, since the great singer was from west Texas. Fry told me he Orbison had a band called the Wink Warriors. Orbison grew up in Wink, Texas, not far from Fry’s Odessa. Fry said he taught Orbison in a high school class. He told me he had to discipline Orbison for acting up in class, so he made him sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” with a metal wastebasket over his head. Fry claimed — with a “Wink” of his own — that in doing so he helped Orbison develop his unique, high-pitched nasal sound.
25. New Mexico Bowl: Arizona vs. Nevada in New Mexico. The halftime act should be the Wink Warriors.
26. Heart of Dallas Bowl: What’s not to like, besides everything? Oklahoma State comes in as a 17-point favorite over Purdue, playing in an 82-year-old stadium with seating for 92,000. Expect 70,000 empty seats.
27. BBVA Compass Bowl: Worst bowl-name. And it’s in Birmingham. On Jan. 5. And Pittsburgh is making its third-straight appearance. ”It’s never optimal to have the same team two or three years in a row,” Compass Bowl executive director Mark Meadows. “Certainly, we look forward to having those guys in town. They do have a new coach. Some of the players will be new.” Wow!
28. Independence Bowl: If this were Louisiana Monroe against Louisiana Tech, like it should have been, this would be quite the little in-state scrap in Shreveport. But Louisiana Monroe against Ohio? I’d rather watch the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs play hockey. That was a real team. It won the Central Hockey League championship two years ago, then ceased operations two weeks later. Hockey has a lot of suspended operations.
29. Military Bowl: There are countless reasons to visit Washington, D.C. Going to see Bowling Green play San Jose State in football isn’t among them.
30. Capital One Bowl: I’m not shy about it. I hate Orlando. Not the people. Not downtown Orlando, which actually exists. But the whole Disney-Universal-SeaWorld deal. It creeps me out. Parents, I’m no one to tell you how to raise kids. But I’ll do it anyway. Take your kids to real places with real beauty and majesty. Go to real mountains, not Space Mountain. Go to an ocean or a Great Lake or one of the nation’s great aquariums instead of SeaWorld. Go see Tony Orlando instead of Orlando. OK, I may have gone too far.
31. Gator Bowl: Jacksonville is America’s largest city, geographically, in the contiguous United States. Its nickname is “Jax.” It’s airport is JAX. Channel 4 there is News4Jax. I find all of that disturbing.
32. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Long ago, Houston had the Bluebonnet Bowl. Now that was a bowl-name. The 1968 Bluebonnet Bowl was a doozy.
33. Beef O’Brady’s Bowl: St. Petersburg has a dog-racing track called Derby Lane. I spent a New Year’s Eve there the night before an Outback Bowl. Which is yet another reason I’ll never write an autobiography.
34. Russell Athletic Bowl: Orlando’s No. 2 bowl. This is what a 9-3 record gets you in the Big East, eh, Rutgers?
35. Belk Bowl: Come to Charlotte to see the Duke Blue Devils try to snap their four-game losing streak, and the Cincinnati Bearcats, a team without a head coach. The winner will take home the Golden Belk, or the Silver Belk, or the Belk Belt. Belk is a department store chain. For the location nearest you, click here. If Belk wants to give me a little something for the plug, I’ll edit this and move the Belk Bowl to No. 1 so fast, your bluebonnets and poinsettias will go flying into your bowl of famous Idaho potatoes.