SI Vault
Alfred Wright
December 26, 1955
New Year's Day brings coast-to-coast football at its finest. Here is how it started. Also Hickman's Hunches and eight pages of expert scouting reports
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December 26, 1955

The Day Of The Bowls Is Here

New Year's Day brings coast-to-coast football at its finest. Here is how it started. Also Hickman's Hunches and eight pages of expert scouting reports

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Celebrating the new year is an old and happy idea we inherited from primitive man, yet it has been a mere 40 years since we learned how to do it properly. For nearly 200 years—that is, from the time we adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752—we struggled along, simply scaring away the evil spirits of the old year by honking horns, blowing whistles, ringing bells and otherwise stirring up a public nuisance. To be sure, we tendered to the inner man and recemented our ties of friendship for the year ahead by dining and hoisting a few to each other's good health, but what did we really do to bless the new cycle? Nothing much, until a chap named Charles Frederick Holder turned up in Pasadena, California around the middle 1880s and projected new year rites to their proper conclusion with a ceremony familiar to posterity as the Tournament of Roses.

As a result of Holder's efforts we now have parades built around queens who symbolize the American Love Goddess, just as in the festival of Dionysus the Greeks paraded a new-born babe to symbolize the coming year's fertility. There will be a vast floral pageant patterned after the old Macedonian custom of displaying fresh foliage as a symbol of new life and strength. And there will be mimetic battles like those of the ancient Egyptians at Memphis in honor of the god Sokaris where the victory symbolizes the triumph of the new over the old.

It is the last of these three heritages from Holder's first humble Tournament of Roses that will create the most fervid reactions among the people on New Year's Day, 1956 (which we must celebrate on January 2 because the first falls on Sunday). Our own mimetic battles we call bowl games, occurring as they do in the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl and elsewhere. The honor of participating in these contests falls to football teams as widely separated as the Canadian and Mexican borders, the Allegheny Mountains and the Pacific shores. More than 335,000 celebrants will be seated in the bowls during the contests, and another 60 million or so will partake through television. Even the ancients could not claim such devotion to the ritual of reannuation in their far-less-sophisticated days.

Take, for example, the followers of Michigan State, which claims the nation's second-best football team. Although it is a good 2,000 miles from their campus to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where their team will engage UCLA, the fourth-best, some 4,500 students intend to make that trip. Of these, 2,600 will travel on six special trains, and 11 railroad companies are engaged in providing the necessary rolling stock to accommodate them—the largest nonmilitary migration ever to head west from a single point. Before they arrive home again the reverent followers, along with 45 faculty members and 45 hand-picked students acting as chaperones, will have spent approximately half a million dollars.

UCLA, the host college, will attempt to match this enthusiasm on the day of the ceremony with a cheering section of 12,000 students. In their midst will be a solid square block of 3,440 white shirts—the half time entertainers. They call their show the UCLARAMA and, waving colored cards, they will produce a series of 26 tableaux depicting the season records of the rival teams, their numerous victories and their climactic bids to the bowl itself.

Meanwhile, UCLA's 120-piece band, decked out in blue and gold uniforms topped by tall blue, gold-plumed shakos, will be parading on the playing field in a spectacle called "Wide, Wide World." In this the band blasts out songs from the six continents, such as Waltzing Matilda for Australia and something called UCLA Cha, Cha, Cha for South America, concluding with a finale of Battle Hymn of the Republic as 65 American flags are unfurled in a giant diamond. With all this pageantry one cannot help but wonder whether the game itself can hope to compete for the cheers of the 102,000 spectators. The answer is yes, for the triumph in a bowl game is everything, the rest simply trimming.

Nowhere will this be better demonstrated than at the Orange Bowl in Miami. There the University of Oklahoma must defend its ranking as the year's best college team against unbeaten Maryland, which angrily begrudges its own rating as third. Already the proud governors of the two states have exchanged a telegraphic wager of three pounds of Oklahoma peanuts against three dozen Chesapeake Bay blue points. Undergraduates, alumni and just plain boosters from each state will increase the population of Miami by 25,000 or more just to encourage the football players from home. There will be ceremony aplenty, with each side providing its band of more than 100 pieces and the city of Miami furnishing another 1,800 musicians and baton twirlers to keep 76,000 restive eyewitnesses at ease during half time. Yet, after this most critical of bowl games, only a single statistic will be left behind: who won.

As usual, the atmosphere at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas will be charged with a special brand of high-octane Texas �clat that outlanders sometimes mistake for madness. It is there that Texas Christian University, this year's champions of the Southwest, must defend their sectional honor against the University of Mississippi. Since TCU, like UCLA, will be playing in its own backyard, most of its 4,000 students plan an early return from their holidays in order to celebrate the new year in the cheering section, and every time their team scores they will bruise the atmosphere with a blast from a diesel air horn, the wail of a portable siren and the clang of a few hundred cowbells. Before the game the Dallas chapter of the TCU Women's Club will serve a gigantic Texas-style "victory hunch brunch" in the state fair grounds outside the bowl, and inside the bowl during half time a card section of 850 TCU rooters will spell out the score for those who haven't been paying attention and then flash an appeal for the March of Dimes.

On the other side of the field will be some 800 undergraduates from Mississippi—more than one fourth the student body—plus a band of 85 pieces, 20 pretty girls known as Rebelettes, 12 majorettes to guide the band and eight cheerleaders. Even the governor and governor-elect will be there as joint heads of the state's delegation of 15,000. But the most important individual in this traveling congregation will be a lovely young miss from Ole Miss named Kathy Rogers. On New Year's Day, 1956 she will be Miss Rebel, queen of Mississippi.

Only in New Orleans, home of the Sugar Bowl, where Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech will contend for nothing more important than the honor of winning, will the partisan activity be anything but all-out. It isn't just that Tech is blas� about its 10th bowl appearance in 14 years. Early in December Governor Marvin Griffin of Georgia discovered that Pitt has a Negro substitute fullback on its squad, and he futilely tried to force Tech to withdraw from the contest on the grounds that the Georgia boys would be non-segregating. The Tech students took most unkindly to this political tomfoolery, but the deed was done and its pall will hang over the game. Nonetheless, enough sensible Georgians will be on hand to fill the 20-car special train from Atlanta, and a few more thousands will make the 500-mile trip by plane, bus and motorcar. Following the lead of their governor, the big politicians will stay home, but there is nothing to prevent them sneaking a look at the game on TV when no one is watching.

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