BOWL EXPOSURE IS GROWING LONGER
...and pleasanter and easier as TV gets deeper into year-end football coverage than ever before. This year for the first time all eight major bowls will be televised, and with almost no overlapping. Except for two hectic hours on New Year's Day (2 to 4 p.m. E.S.T.), armchair adepts who had mastered the art of switching from the Orange to the Sugar to the Cotton without ever missing a touchdown will hardly get a chance to warm up before their work is done and they are sailing smoothly to the final goal line at 11 p.m. (E.S.T.). Well, perhaps not exactly smoothly. Wives who sulked through six straight hours in the past are going to be mutinous at the end of nine, which is how long it will take to get through the New Year's Day schedule. The games will be worth watching, though, particularly the Orange Bowl at night between Alabama and Texas, SI picks the winners (right) and on the next pages explores the labyrinthine world of bowl-picking committees.
The point has never really been stressed, but college football's giddiest passion, the bowl game, was originated before the airplane, the wireless, the Panama Canal, the New York subway, the San Francisco earthquake and the Republic of Cuba. It dates from Jan. 1, 1902, when Stanford played Michigan in the first Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Since that happy occurrence there have been almost as many bowl games invented as there are flowers, fruit, natural resources and scientific phenomena—Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Bluebonnet, Pecan, Tangerine, Gator, Mineral Water, Sun, Gem, Liberty, Camellia, Copper, Oil and Missile, for example. Not all of them are considered major, and not all have endured. But the eight big ones that have not only lasted but now flourish, thanks to television, have entered into such an ulcerous era of promotion that the manly art of team-getting has become as competitive as what happens after a kickoff.
For a lot of years the Rose Bowl had it easy. A team from the West Coast met an opponent of national eminence, and this constituted California's idea of a U.S. championship. Then in the '30s came the Orange Bowl in Miami, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Sun Bowl in El Paso, to be followed by the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville in the '40s and the Bluebonnet and Liberty bowls in the '50s. The struggle for top teams was on. The Rose Bowl simplified its situation after World War II by luring the Big Ten into a tie-up that is continually renewed. The Cotton Bowl has to search for only one team since the Southwest Conference champion is always the host. But no other agreements exist today. This year, therefore, seven major bowls were in need of 13 college teams for the games that arc scheduled from Dec. 19 through Jan. 2.
The search began when the regular season was scarcely half completed. In fact, when Notre Dame took the field at South Bend for its fifth game, two Sugar Bowl representatives were in the press box. And when Notre Dame won, an offer was made. New Orleans wanted Notre Dame even if the Irish finished with a 5-5 record. One week later in Philadelphia, as Notre Dame prepared to play Navy, some very un-Notre Dame and un-Navy people were in the stadium wearing orange shirts and white Stetson hats. They were from the Orange Bowl. Miami wanted Notre Dame as badly as New Orleans did.
There were several reasons why, and the least important of them to the sponsors—though certainly a bonus—was the fact that Notre Dame then looked like the best team in the nation. The more important reasons were that Notre Dame would insure a huge TV audience, would guarantee a true intersectional pairing and would bring a large following of supporters into the city—a situation always vastly admired by local booster clubs and the chambers of commerce, the people generally responsible for the bowl game in the first place.
The perfect pairing, every fan in the country agreed at the time, would have been Notre Dame against Alabama or Arkansas—a true playoff for the national championship, such as last year's Texas-Navy game in Dallas. "We can get Alabama if we can get Notre Dame,'' said an Orange Bowl official when the two teams arrived at 7-0 records. "And we have a good chance for Notre Dame. There's a gentleman in Miami who's given the school about $9 million, and he's helping us out."
The gentleman did not go so far as to take back his money, and Notre Dame, apparently financially independent, finally announced that it was not interested in a postseason game.
Next to Notre Dame, the most wanted team was Alabama, which kept trailing the Irish in the rankings. The Crimson Tide could choose among the Orange, Sugar, Cotton—even the Sun Bowl, if Coach Bear Bryant decided he wanted to see a bullfight in El Paso's neighbor, Juàrez. But having played in the Sugar Bowl last season, and perhaps preferring Miami's entertainment attractions over those of Dallas—beaches, boats, horses, greyhounds, jai alai and fishing versus going to the movies—Bryant said Alabama wanted a "change of scenery" and, with two games remaining, unofficially accepted the Orange Bowl.
At this point it was no trouble for Miami to get an opponent for Alabama. One of the consolations the University of Texas received for barely losing to Arkansas, and thereby missing another undefeated season, was that Coach Darrell Royal's Longhorns were freed from the Cotton Bowl for the first time in four years. And remembering his last trip to the Sugar Bowl when many Texans complained publicly of price-gouging, Royal had strong Miami leanings. In turn, the Orange Bowl felt that Texas was, after Notre Dame, the next most glamorous team available. With one game remaining, Texas accepted.
Once a bowl attraction is set, officials always go into a late-season sweat over the won-lost records of the teams.
"I watched the Alabama-Auburn game on TV on Thanksgiving Day," said Ernie Seiler, executive vice-president of the Orange Bowl. "When Auburn was leading 7-6 at the half, I also heard Texas and Texas A&M were tied 7-7. It sure was a long half time. Then I heard Texas was only ahead 13-7 and I thought, 'My God, a touchdown can beat us.' You get a lot of ulcers when you have two teams like that."
There was a time when the Sugar Bowl ranked second only to the Rose Bowl in prestige. It began to slip several years ago as the Cotton and Orange bowls became better promotions and offered as much, if not more, money to the visiting teams. Also the bowl suffered because of New Orleans' racial ban. For the past eight years the Sugar Bowl has had all-southern pairings, five times being forced to accept the Southwest Conference runner-up as one of its attractions and only three times over that span managing to obtain the Southeastern Conference champion.
New Orleans can now report cheerfully that its racial ban no longer is in effect. And NBC is delighted with this year's game—LSU against Syracuse. Neither team is a champion of its area, but the intersectional flavor is there, and this means more viewers on TV than the Sugar Bowl has had recently. Sponsors of the New Orleans game certainly tried to arrange as attractive a match as the Orange and Cotton had but without luck. In succession, after Notre Dame, they sought Alabama, Texas and Nebraska. The last blow they suffered was Nebraska's decision to meet Arkansas in Dallas, a game that will make more sense than most, since it will be a battle of conference champions, the Southwest against the Big Eight.
Striving to please the network, the Sugar Bowl then took Syracuse and prepared a release to be issued to the press after the Syracuse-West Virginia game. A fine forethought, but unfortunately the release credited Syracuse with an 8-2 record, which it would have had if only it had beaten West Virginia.
Obviously, the larger, older, more established bowls get first choice of the best available teams. They not only pay more money, they offer more prestige and, in such cases as Miami and New Orleans, provide a more exotic range of entertainment for the fans who will follow the teams. Games such as the Gator Bowl, the Bluebonnet, the Sun and the Liberty (which has now become an unusual indoor affair for Atlantic City's Convention Hall) are obligated to await the leftovers.
Sometimes the leftovers are pretty good. The Gator Bowl, for example, has never suffered. It has benefited from such fine meetings as Tennessee-Texas A&M, Arkansas-Georgia Tech and Florida-Penn State at times when those teams were among the country's best. Neither has the Bluebonnet Bowl, which is played in the best physical plant of them all, the handsome, comfortable, 70,000-seat Rice Stadium. The Bluebonnet has enjoyed Texas-Alabama, Missouri-Georgia Tech and Baylor-LSU when those teams were almost as hot as the ones which nosed them out for the championships in their conferences.
After a lot of infighting for teams this season the Gator Bowl landed on all fours. George Olsen, executive director of the Gator, kept Penn State, Georgia Tech and Georgia dangling, then quietly and skillfully enticed big-name Oklahoma to Jacksonville to meet little-name Florida State, a school which gives the Gator almost a true home team.
The Bluebonnet usually is interested in the Southwest runner-up, and since Chairman Lou Hassell is a close friend of Coaches Bryant and Royal, Houston was actually the second choice of both Texas and Alabama. But the Bluebonnet missed those. It may have a fine game anyhow, which should delight the 15,000 school kids who get in free, courtesy of a charity-minded businessmen's club. Tulsa and Ole Miss, a couple of cautionless, offense-minded teams, will play. Even in a bad year Mississippi looks good, and Tulsa's Jerry Rhome gives the Bluebonnet the U.S. passing champion for the second straight year (it was Baylor's Don Trull in 1963). Both schools are within 600 miles of Houston—driving distance—and the loyal followers are expected to pour in. "When Tulsa was announced," said Art Mahoney, sales manager of Houston's Sheraton-Lincoln Hotel, "we had 35 immediate reservations from Tulsa people, plus a cocktail party for 100 booked for the night before the game."
With all of the eight major bowls on national television, the financial rewards are quite decent, to understate the case. The take-home pay ranges from the $207,000 that Alabama and Texas each will receive from Miami to the $50,000 that West Virginia and Utah will get from the Liberty. The amount with which the schools actually can leave town is something else. The cost of taking a team and band to a postseason game naturally depends on how much travel is involved, the length of the stay, the locale, what sort of rates are provided and how many wives and friends can stow away.
One important result of television's impact on the bowl scene is the scheduling. There was a time when every game was played on Jan. 1 and the time of the kickoff did not matter. Came television, and the game times not only began to be staggered but the promoters of new bowls sought other dates. For example, the only reason the Bluebonnet and Liberty bowls are scheduled on or around Dec. 19 every year is to insure TV. The only reason the Sun is scheduled for Dec. 26 and the Gator on Jan. 2 is for TV. And the Orange will be played at night for the first time, purely because NBC wants to televise three games—the Sugar, Rose and Orange—in succession.
Bowl games thus have become pawns of the networks, but their real value is more accurately judged by the players and fans who participate. It is a rare pairing that can excite the teams and their enthusiasts beyond the level of any normal intersectional contest. And most coaches feel the quality of play is slightly below that of the regular season because of the layoff before bowl practice begins.
But it is fun after all, a giant holiday and winter vacation combined. And the sponsors have worked hard to see that their promotions are well remembered. The players receive every conceivable sort of souvenir, from watches to blankets to tie clasps to Stetson hats. Rose Bowl participants are trundled onto buses and taken to movie studios, Disneyland, Marineland, Knott's Berry Farm, often even to Palm Springs. In Miami the players are welcomed free into the horse tracks, greyhound tracks, jai alai frontons and nightclubs—coaches permitting. There is an Orange Bowl navy, which consists of committee members with large boats who take the athletes on sightseeing tours. There is a fishing tournament as well as a dance at a country club. The Sugar Bowl whisks everyone through the French Quarter, relying heavily on cuisine, notably the annual feast at Antoine's. In Houston next week the players will attend a barbecue on a ranch, tour the new domed stadium, ride a boat up the Houston ship channel to the San Jacinto battlefield and be stuffed with seafood. In El Paso they also will have a ranch-style feast, a breakfast of huevos rancheros, will hear the hoof beats of a sheriff's posse at every turn and will attend the Sun Carnival bullfight in old Juàrez. The Gator Bowl will cart its visitors off on a tour of St. Augustine and an alligator farm.
Sometime, in the midst of all this, a few football games will be played. But more important to the powers that now run the bowls, a lot of products will be advertised on the tube.
TEAMS AND COACHES
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Football's strictest fundamentals, blocking and tackling, will be displayed perhaps as never before. Quickness, aggressiveness and pride are stern traits of both teams. Texas has stronger running and more overall experience. With Namath's passes. Alabama has the ability to strike more quickly. But dangerous underdog Texas rarely gives up the easy touchdown.
Arkansas, which dethroned national champion Texas and shut out its opponents in five succeeding games, is a team with a hidden weapon: Ken Hatfield, who led the nation in punt returns three straight years. There are also passing and a rugged ground defense. Nebraska has speed in the backfield but a less imaginative offense. It also played a weaker schedule.
Michigan opened up its attack this year and won the Big Ten title. The person most responsible was Quarterback Bob Timberlake, a player who, as the saying goes, "can't do anything real well—except beat you." State is a resourceful team, and it has Paul Brothers, uncelebrated nationally but only a step behind Timberlake—a significant step.
OREGON STATE (8-2)
One never knows about Syracuse. The running game, featuring Floyd Little, can be overwhelming when everything clicks. But three times Syracuse lost to lesser opponents. Defense-minded LSU thrives against running teams. So does Syracuse, but it is miserable on pass defense. The issue, thus, is whether or not LSU can put together a pass or two. It probably can.
For students of wide-open play, this will be the best game of them all. It will be especially interesting if Mississippi takes little-known Tulsa lightly. Tulsa's Jerry Rhome broke 18 national passing records, and his moving target, Howard Twilley broke a few more. But these were not made against teams as formidable as the ball-controlling Rebels.
FLORIDA STATE (8-1-1)
Florida State, inching toward the big time for years, has at last arrived. Waiting there, however, is Oklahoma, which is more than anxious to atone for a disappointing season. State will discover that the Sooners' manpower is too much for either Steve Tensi's passes or Fred Biletnikoff s amazing catches and that Jim Grisham and Lance Rentzel are tough to stop.
TEXAS TECH (6-3-1)
Two of the finest coaching jobs of the season were performed by J. T. King at Texas Tech and Vince Dooley at Georgia. Georgia has two of the best tackles anywhere in Jim Wilson and Ray Rissmiller, and Tech's Donny Anderson, who finds endless new ways of getting over or through defenses, is one of the year's outstanding runners. Expect a close game.
WEST VIRGINIA (7-3)
West Virginia, which came on with a rush to win its last four games, unfortunately yields too many points—179 in 10 games. And lacking good runners, the Mountaineers depend heavily upon Allen McCune's passing. This will hurt against Utah, which is exceptionally good on pass defense. And the Utes like to run--which will hurt the weak West Virginia defense, too.