It’s Christmas day 1989. I am 9 years old and really pissed off.
Like a good American child, I determine my self worth by the number of presents I get under the tree. Be it from my parents or Santa, all I know is I’ve been a good boy and I want my reward.
On this day, it appears I should have been a little less of a brat, as my sister appears to be the object of my parents’ and Santa’s affections. My Little Pony, Barbie dolls and even an Easy Bake Oven were sitting under the tree waiting for her. In my small brain, the entire Toys ‘R Us girls section was magically transferred to my living room.
I was getting socks. Unhappy is an understatement.
However, after all of the gifts under the tree were opened and I was plotting my revenge upon Kris Kringle for forsaking me, my parents presented with me one last gift. A white envelope. Convinced it was a savings bond, which only made my head almost explode, I opened it, to find the most magical Christmas gift I had ever received.
Two airplane tickets to Atlanta. I was going to the Peach Bowl to watch my favorite team take on the Georgia Bulldogs.
In your face, sister.
Atlanta, in the mind of a child from a small town in upstate New York, was a magical southern wonderland. The underground mall and the Discovery Center of Atlanta were wonderful objects to behold. But, to this day, it was the pageantry of the bowl that stuck out.
My father got us a room in the hotel right next what appeared to be a mammoth skyscraper that housed the Syracuse football team. We attended the welcome banquet, where I was able to see, up close, the coach who I saw as a God of the gridiron, Coach Mac. I remember riding the train in with Syracuse fans from throughout the country. I couldn’t contain my excitement, and I jabbered like a gibbon to anyone who would listen about how awesome the Orangemen were and what they were going to do to those pansy little Bulldogs.
The game did not disappoint. With quarterback Mark McDonald at the helm, I watched the Syracuse offense drive down the field in the fourth quarter. My father and I sat behind the goalposts. With less than a minute left, John Biskup kicked a 26-yard field goal to clinch a 19-18 victory. On the video tape my parents have of this game (yes, they own a VHS, don’t judge), I can still point out exactly where we were sitting as the ball sailed through the uprights.
Awesome. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Outside of the memories, the game left me with something else. Something that’s difficult to admit in today’s college football landscape, where the cries for a playoff get louder and louder every season and the BCS is criticized and scrutinized more than Obamacare.
I love bowl games. LOVE THEM.
I know, I know, the BCS is a money grab by greedy college presidents, who care not about crowning a true national champion, but lining their pockets with TV revenue. I know the bowl system is an arcane practice, which rewards mediocrity with games that don’t matter. Blah, blah, blah.
I don’t get it. I love college football. You know what’s better than college football? More college football. It’s like getting a steak dinner and after finishing it, being rewarded with free pie. Hating on the bowl games is complaining that the pie you got was peach instead of apple. It’s free pie. Shut up and eat it. If you take the time to look at the bowl schedule, it is full of entertaining and intriguing match-ups. Miami versus Notre Dame, Florida State versus South Carolina, Texas A&M versus LSU, Penn St. versus Florida. These are great match-ups that you won’t see in the regular season or in this mythical playoff.
Yes, college football is the only sport that doesn’t use a tournament to crown its champion (though, can you honestly tell me that Duke versus Butler was a better presentation of the best teams in college basketball than Auburn versus Oregon in the BCS title game?). Yes, it sucks for TCUs, Utahs and Boise States of the world that have gotten left behind in the past. But I’m selfish. I don’t care about their plights. I care about my team, and we aren’t playing for a national title anytime soon.
For a team like Syracuse, the Pinstripe Bowl is a great reward for the program and the fans. If we were in a tournament format, we wouldn’t get this. We’d smile at our 7-5 record and be on to basketball season. Bowl games, even a crazy one like the Pinstripe Bowl keep our interest in Orange football piqued. It gives a resurgent program something to strive for as we take the baby steps from conference doormats, to respectability, to regional power, which should be our rightful place in the college football universe.
These events are great for fans. The ability to travel to a new city to watch your beloved team play against another football program that you’d never come across is an amazing experience. While I will always love football in the Dome, there is something cool about getting to meet the Syracuse fans from across the nation, as we converge upon a new city to watch our team take an another region’s power. Few sporting events really give you this opportunity. The true shame in the whole bowl system is that more fans don’t take advantage of it.
As Christmas creeps closer, I hope that somewhere in Orangeland there is another child who is about to be surprised with a gift that they will remember forever. My father and I will be there. And trust me, we won’t be thinking about the BCS.
Mark Porter is a staff writer for The Juice Online.