Bowling for colors

In recent years, we’ve seen the bowl game scene swell to a media phenomenon truly worthy of the word “plethora” (a state of being too full; overabundance; excess). One scans through this latest horde of offerings, featuring lots of 6-6 teams hashing it out in half-filled stadia, in a state of bored stupefaction. It now seems safe to say that the only people who look upon this year’s schedule of 35 bowl games as a positive development are, of course, helpless gambling junkies.

Upon witnessing just such a bowl game one night between Christmas and New Year’s, with strange teams from secondary conferences playing in front of what looked like about 3,000 drunks in some nameless “warm weather” town where a fairly nasty ice storm was in progress, my mind flashed back to a simpler time, when bowl games were actually kind of a big deal, believe it or not.

It was 47 years ago. There were less than 10 bowl games then, but the only ones that really “mattered” were those on New Year’s Day: The Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl. (Simpler times indeed—not a sponsorship in the bunch!) I remember back then we would all, as a family, head over to the neighbor’s house for the big New Year’s Day Bowl Party, where we would then proceed to spend the afternoon awash in good, clean, family fun, eating potato chips and white bread sandwiches with the crust cut off, watching four games. Why was this such an occasion? Because any of us in Fresno gave a flying fig about Stanford beating Ohio State or Texas stomping Alabama? Hell, no. It’s because those games were all broadcast in color! In ’64, man, I’m tellin’ ya, that was special. My parents couldn’t really stand the neighbors, and my brother Tom and I weren’t all that crazy about their kids, either. But damn, football games being shown in color? Ragin’!

So we sucked it up and hung with the Jorgensens. The parents would get faced on various fizzes, while us kids, all jacked up on Kool-Aid and peanut butter, amused ourselves by messing around with the color controls, goosing ’em until the ultra-bright jerseys left scorching tracers on the screen. The parents would eventually prevail, bringing the colors back to reality, but even then, the games were quite the sensation, with every play featuring chaotic collisions of oranges and blues and reds, fully capable of seducing a viewer, no matter what his age, with its spectacular novelty.

And then, we would go home and watch Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in black and white. We didn’t know that film noir was cool back then, because everything was film noir. “Dad, when are we gonna get a color TV?” “Soon, Bruce, soon. Go play with the dog.” Little did we know that one day we’d be able to watch television shows in full-on color … on our telephones.