I have always loved New Year’s Day. I was never a big New Year’s Eve guy, even when I was young and had no trouble staying up until midnight — or beyond — and being fresh the next day.
Nowadays, I don’t even think about staying up until midnight because, after all, what exactly is the point? I did Times Square when I was in college — and remember not so much being cold as desperately needing to go to the bathroom — and I’ve been to many a New Year’s Eve party where all I really wanted to do was go home.
So, these days, I just go home. Except this year, when I was at the Ravens-Bengals game in Baltimore and didn’t get to my house until almost 10 because the game took forever and I had work to do when it was over. By the time I got home, my wife and 7-year-old daughter were fast asleep. I made myself a sandwich, did a little work and was in bed by 10:30.
New Year’s Eve always feels dark to me. The year is old, I feel old and the so-called celebration is deep into the night.
Not New Year’s Day. Everything feels new and bright. I’ve made my various resolutions about diet and exercise and being more attentive to family and friends.
Some of my most vivid little-boy memories come from first discovering that there were college football games on TV, even though it almost always wasn’t a Saturday. In those days, there were NO regular-season games played on any day of the week but Saturday.
I am so old that my first memory of the Orange Bowl is the first one played at night, January 1, 1965 when Joe Namath came off the bench and nearly led Alabama to a comeback win over Texas. Once, the Rose Bowl was always the last game of the college football season because the other three major bowls — Orange, Sugar, Cotton — were played early in the afternoon leading to “The Granddaddy of them all,” in the late afternoon on the East Coast.
Then, NBC convinced the Orange Bowl to become a night game and so it was Sugar vs. Cotton early in the day, then Rose, then Orange. In 1982, several years after moving to the Superdome, the Sugar made a deal with ABC to go head-to-head with the Orange at night. By then, the Fiesta had wormed its way into the New Year’s lineup and was often able to put together attractive matchups because it was smart enough to NOT have a conference tie-in.
Soon, second-tier bowls began moving to New Year’s Day: The Gator, the Citrus and then the Outback. And then they all became corporate, changing their official names every few years. The Tax Slayer Bowl? Seriously?
Even the Rose Bowl – which has resisted being called “The All-State Sugar Bowl” or the “Capital One Orange Bowl” – is now “The Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.” The Orange Bowl has been played in the same stadium during the last 18 years — with five different stadium names. The Cotton Bowl is now played in Jerry Jones’s monument to himself. The Fiesta Bowl is played in a stadium named for an online college. And so on.
But the Rose Bowl — God Bless it — even with the advent of the College Football Playoff remains the Rose Bowl; the stadium that is.
There is no more romantic setting in sports, especially on New Year’s Day, than the Rose Bowl. I had the honor of covering the game four times and felt a tingle every time I walked in late morning and saw the breath-taking view of the San Gabriel Mountains in the background. Sunset inside that stadium reminds me a little bit of the ending of Field of Dreams.
“Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s Pasadena.”
What’s more, while the Rose Bowl committee has made 21st-century concessions, it hasn’t completely given up its traditions.
The grand marshal the Tournament of Roses Parade is always there for the coin toss, not some corporate geek who has paid his way to a spot at midfield or worse, a politician. When I see Gary Sinise standing there, I think Apollo 13, not “Get me out of here.” Who can forget Sinise calmly saying, “Welcome home, Odyssey; it’s good to see you again.”
The ESPN telecast is nothing like any other ESPN telecast. There is no sign of that annoying crawl that supposedly gives the viewer scores but is really more about promoting ESPN — how many times can you be told how to use the ESPN App in your life? — than anything else.
At halftime the network is required to show at least one song played by each band, which is a LOT more entertaining than hearing the myriad talking heads discussing “gap integrity.”
There’s nothing that can be done about Kirk Herbstreit apparently forgetting that Baker Mayfield has a last name or Chris Fowler repeating the obvious: “This is a classic Rose Bowl,” about 100 times. And, during the awards ceremony – which ESPN MUST televise even if it moves it to ESPN2 because of a four-hours-plus classic game (I’ve got 99 left to catch Fowler) that delays the start of the already late-starting Sugar Bowl, the guy from Northwestern Mutual gets mentioned, but the chairman of the Rose Bowl Committee presents the trophy.
So, I have an idea for my old friend Bill Hancock — the executive director of the CFP — and his pals who make up the Genius-13 Selection Committee: Stop diving on every possible dollar and make a slight change to the way the CFP plays out every year.
Instead of following the NCAA’s format for the Final Four and allowing cities to bid for the event, make the Rose Bowl the permanent site of the title game. It IS the best venue; it IS the best setting; it HAS the most tradition — by far.
Add the Citrus Bowl to the semifinal rotation — it is a warm weather venue and the stadium was renovated three years ago. That would mean the Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Peach and Citrus Bowls would host semifinals every three years.
Play the semifinals on either the last Saturday of December or the first Saturday of January, depending on how the calendar falls. This year, the semis would have been played last Saturday. The kickoffs should be 3 p.m. East and 7 p.m. East — no later.
One of the four non-semifinal “New Year’s Six” bowls would be played on New Year’s Eve and the other three would be played — gasp! – on New Year’s day. Two in the early afternoon; then the Rose Bowl in its traditional time at 5 o’clock, returning to the old Big 10 vs. Pac-12 matchup (best teams not in the CFP qualify) and then the fourth of the New Year’s Six in prime time — which should mean a kickoff no later than 8:30 even if the Rose Bowl runs long — which it is less likely to do if you actually kickoff at 5 o’clock rather than stretching the pre-game yapping out and shorten halftime — again less yapping.
Then, a week after the semifinals, on Saturday — no later than January 10th, as early as January 4th — you play the championship game AT THE ROSE BOWL —5 p.m. Eastern kickoff. The tradition of the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day remains and the championship game is played a few days later at college football’s one true mecca on a Saturday (as it should always be played) with a kickoff time that doesn’t mean the game ends at midnight Eastern on a week night.
Where do you think 99 percent of college football fans would like to go for a championship week? Atlanta? Dallas? Tampa? Please. We all know the answer to that question.
Not having the title game might — might — cost the CFP schools a few dollars. They can afford it.
It’s also the absolute right thing to do. And you know what? It’ll never happen. What a damn shame.
John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, “The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,”—remains on the New York Times bestseller list. His latest Young Adult novel, “Backfield Boys—A Football Mystery in Black-and-White,” was selected as one of the Library Guild’s book choice for 2017.