Picture me sitting in a comfortable chair, my eyes half-closed and bereft of animation. There is no expression on my face, only a slight twitching of the muscles that would seem to indicate a form of human hibernation. I am neither asleep nor awake. I am watching football.
It is either my 11th or 12th bowl game. I have turned the TV's audio down to avoid the mindless roar of the crowd and the grammatical disasters of the play-by-play commentators to whom the rules of syntax are a foreign country.
I don't need sound. I know there is a touchdown when arms are thrown into the air and the players romp like fawns through the end zone, slapping heads and bumping butts. I read the score on the screen. I know who's playing and who's ahead. What more do I need?
I cannot tell you exactly why I am watching bowl games. I don't like football that much, not even "the granddaddy of them all," a phrase applied in agonizing repetition to describe Pasadena's annual blossomy confrontation, the Rose Bowl.
I wince when announcers use the term, and I remain wincing during their pathetic abuse of the English language. "Where's he at?" they ask when an injured player, leapt upon by a 300-pound tackle, is carried from the field. "Where'd he go to?"
I think that men are drawn to football by DNA that releases dopamine into our systems during bowl season, heightening our pleasure response to physical confrontation. We can't help ourselves. Come the end of the year and we float like living dead to our TV sets, carrying a bag of potato chips and inexplicably craving beer and hot dogs.
My fixation began with the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. The commentators are forced to say it all. Not just the Poinsettia Bowl, but the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. There is also the Georgia Dome Chick-fil-A Bowl. Everything is for sale. Next, the L.A. Pizza Hut Times?
My wife and I were having a pleasant conversation about, well, something when I fell victim to the Bowl Syndrome. Cinelli was probably explaining to me how I could be a better husband if only I remembered she was human too, didn't swear at my computer, cut down on the martinis, were kinder to the dog and helped around the house.
It was lost on me. My synaptic connections were sizzling and my mind was saying, "Somewhere there is a bowl game being played."
I rose from the chair. I walked slowly toward the TV. It clicked on. And there was Texas Christian University locked in what one commentator called "pigskin combat" with Boise State. I can't believe I watched it. The madness had begun.
According to my count, there are 35 bowl games in December, overlapping into January. Once, as I recall, there were only the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl. Now the season drags on endlessly, sometimes with multiple games in a single day, beginning with the EagleBank Bowl and ending with the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. No Viagra Bowl. Yet.
The Rose Bowl was played, of course, on New Year's Day following a parade that has almost become excessive in its sameness. Animated birds and prancing horses are not what Americans need these days. Bread and potatoes, that's what we need. But boo to my dour asides. What matters here is -- yea! -- football.
My attention was especially drawn to the Papajohns.com Bowl, during which Rutgers enjoyed trouncing North Carolina State at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., a sweet old Southern city noted more for its history of racial inequities than for either its cultural or athletic achievements.
To indicate just how dedicated ESPN was to its sponsor, the commentators had Papa John himself visit them at halftime with a large pepperoni pizza, which the boys greeted with the enthusiasm of new fathers. They held it, they smiled at it, and they talked about it in loving parental terms. Then they probably ate it off camera, with Papa John watching to assure himself that no one spit it out.
I will grant this much to American football: Unlike soccer encounters abroad, there are very few instances of fans going berserk, enjoying or lamenting the moment by killing or badly beating others. In America we scream and tear off our upper clothing in victory and weep quietly in defeat, satisfying our frustrations elsewhere.
One must realize, I suppose, that bowl games, like "Dancing with the Stars" and other visual delights, are not intended as intellectual enlightenment. If one wants mental challenge, one watches "Jeopardy" or browses through the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Football is pleasure lifted to a level of entertainment that allows smashing and thumping as substitutes for thinking.
But enough of this. Gotta run. Kentucky is playing East Carolina in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Where's it at? In Memphis, Tenn., silly.