Portion control is tough. When it comes to food, drink or roller coaster rides, three helpings can be too many, two not enough. The same goes for the period between Championship and Super Bowl Sundays. Seven days are inadequate to digest the former and prepare for the latter, fourteen, a tad too much. But I’ll sign up for this schedule every time if it means avoiding the type of sneaky yet tectonic shift that’s occurred in college football, during which that sport’s most significant, celebrated, time-honored occasion – January 1st – quietly became irrelevant.
In the absence of a playoff – that crazy thing athletics invented in which one series of games systematically plays into the next, thereby building interest and snowballing drama — major college football always at least had the New Year’s Day Bowl slate. This marked a major American sports holiday, a unique, one day chance to comprehensively binge on one of our favorite games.
Like most all-you-can-eat formats, it often left consumers bloated and slightly dazed, but never empty. Yes, there were years when an undefeated or one loss team was left with a bad taste by the final polls. But at least — like clockwork — by January 2nd or 3rd, those polls created closure to the season. After that, the world could tuck college football back up on the shelf until news of spring practices emerged, if not later. Well, no longer.
Today January 1st arrives, followed by the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, and all the while, college football continues to stage games. Not, say, within the beautiful ballast that a bracket could provide, but randomly. In this unglued, unpredictable set-up, the BCS funnel cloud is still spinning long after my college roommate Bob would deem it appropriate to greet people, “Happy New Year.” When the Championship finally kicks off, the general public has to go looking for it. Imagine that. The closest thing college football has to a definitive title game, and this year it took place on a Monday night, January 9th, more than a week after our sporting subconscious tells us that college football’s most important game should be played: New Year’s Day.
Forget that Alabama-LSU II was not an instant classic, the greater sports crime was that we had to wonder, ask, and double check when it was on. That it was aligned with no particular holiday or cultural festivity, like so many monumental bowl games that preceded it in history. That in the case of this year, it took place close on the heels of a 4-game Wild Card Weekend which had fully fed our football appetites.
In a world with more and more live games on television all the time, why upset a venue that worked so reliably for so long? Never did the big bowls of New Year’s Day form a playoff grid, but strung together, they did create a gridiron archipelago – the kind that buzzed like “Seychelles” off the lips of a slick-tongued travel agent. Now, every bowl game is like Gilligan’s – an uncharted desert isle. I can only guess that someone somewhere at some point simply had metrics that stated major college football as a property increases in value in direct proportion to the section of the calendar it occupies. Even at the cost of making its “marquee” game difficult to locate by destroying its widely known, perfectly healthy roots in sports’ space-time continuum. What if the NFL did that? “Ladies and gentlemen, Super Bowl Wednesday!”
The light at the end of this Super Bowl’s two week hype tunnel is finally visible, glowing from no less than a perfect freight train of a football game: grand, powerful, and arriving at an appointed time and place. How wonderfully dependable for all we millions wanting aboard. Though my heart and football hunger were ready for it a few days ago, my head is content to endure even a few more stories of offensive linemen mocking their quarterback’s sweaters. Those are but a small price to pay for the trustworthiness of a 46 year old device as foundationally functional this week as the week it debuted: Super Bowl Sunday. Worth its weight in wait.