Bowl Season: A Lasting First Impression

Christmas Day has come and passed, which means that the holiday bowl season has revved back up to a fever pitch (eight games filled the Friday and Saturday schedule). There are 21 more games to be decided from Monday (Dec. 29th) through Monday (Jan. 12th). In those contests, we'll see traditional powers, great individual performances, "back-and-forths" that won't be resolved until late fourth quarters, and the crowning of a national champion.

And, despite all of those possibilities, I'd have my fill for the season if no other bowls were played until next December. Even though the majority of these games still need to be played, I don't think you'll find a memorable moment to top a duo of incidents that happened in the days leading up to Santa's annual sojourn. The quirk about these incidents is that they sit in stark opposition to each other, at least in terms of how they're probably viewed. The even bigger quirk about them is that they ushered in a couple of newcomers.

This winter marks the starting point for five bowls. Three of them (Camellia, Boca Raton, Quick Lane) were fairly uneventful for those not invested through one of the participating schools. The other two, however, provided finishes that should go down in the annals of bowl history. First, we'll go back to Monday.

The Bad News

Miami hosts one of the traditional standards when it comes to this time of year. The Orange Bowl turns 80-years-old on New Year's Day. But, in this age of cities hosting multiple contests, it's not surprising that South Florida would get another shot at hosting more than one game. The inaugural Miami Beach Bowl was a roller coaster ride that really got going in the fourth quarter. BYU erased a ten-point deficit and turned it into touchdown advantage. It nearly took Memphis half the quarter to respond, but the Tigers finally did, tying the game with 45 seconds to play.

Fast forward to double overtime, Memphis up by 7. Cougar quarterback Christian Stewart tried to hit Jordan Leslie down the seam. An overthrow resulted in Tigers defensive back DaShaughn Terry intercepting the pass and ending the game. That's when all heck broke loose.

Just yards from where the game-ending play was occurring, tensions boiled over. Several players from both teams converged on a two-man tussle, building it into a multi-dozen player brawl. Punches were thrown and blood was spilled. As coaches were trying to separate packs of feuding players, part of me thought, "good that this doesn't happen that often." But there was another part of me thinking, "why don't we see this happen more often?"

This brawl could support the reasoning that there may be too much importance placed on these games. Yes, there's a lot of pride involved in these exhibitions. Yes, it's a chance to showcase your program for future recruits. Yes, I know this is a very isolated incident when compared to the whole of Bowl games. But does the importance come at a cost of our clamor for sportsmanship? Once the regular season comes to an end, that clamor seems to lessen as conferences align to figure out which league has it best. I'm not saying that competition and manners can't, don't, or shouldn't co-exist. But does an incident like the one at Marlins Park put too much emphasis on the former?

The Good News

A couple of days later, the Bahamas hosted the Caribbean's first Bowl game since 1937 (the Bacardi Bowl in Havana). The inaugural voyage of this annual contest matched Central Michigan and Western Kentucky in a battle to see who could finish 8-5. The Hilltoppers scored early, and plenty. By the start of the fourth quarter, WKU sported a 49-14 lead. Then, the Chippewas instituted a bowl staple ... the comeback.

Over a 15:10 span (1:19 of the third to 1:09 of the fourth), CMU scored touchdowns on four consecutive offensive possessions. They forced WKU to punt, getting the ball back on the 25 with :01 on the clock. That's when all heck broke loose. Chippewa quarterback Cooper Rush heaved the ball on an arc. Forty-five yards later, Jesse Kroll made a leaping catch in WKU territory. After a couple moves, he lateraled the ball to Deon Butler, who eventually lateraled it to Courtney Williams, who eventually lateraled it to Titus Davis, who eventually outraced the Hilltopper defenders to the edge and the pylon for an unbelievable score.

I was able to catch to the play as it happened, not comprehending what my eyes were telling me. I've seen Hail Mary passes. (Shoot, the state of Arizona appeared to have a patent on them this season alone.) I've seen those "festival of laterals" game-winners. I can honestly say that I've never seen a play combining the two. Has it ever happened? I'm sure it has ... but I couldn't tell you, for certain. And to top it all off, the play didn't mean jack squat. The proceeding two-point conversion (for the win) was denied, giving Western Kentucky an astonishing 49-48 victory.

The result aside, this absurd circumstance supports the reasoning for why these games have expanded. Yes, the teams in these smaller bowls have no shot at a national championship. Yes, this appears to be in the reviled "everybody gets a trophy" train of thought. Yes, this leads can even lead to coaching changes when teams underperform their expectations. But doesn't the effort count for something? These are the games where coaches can move away from the strategic and more toward the free-for-all. These are the contests that show the passion of a bunch of 18-20-year-olds after their higher goals may have been wiped away. And these are the times when folks from the Snow Belt can kick back for a couple days in places like the BAHAMAS! (Where do I need to send my resume for a graduate assistant job?)

As this next week goes on, the shine will intensify. The stakes will rise as we approach the first ever FBS semifinals. As far as moments, though, this all might turn into background noise. The biggest statements, good and bad, have already been made for the 2014 Bowl Go-'Round.

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