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Justifying today’s bowls: College football’s latest Bronx tale

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Bowls: There are a lot of them. Most of which seem to have been created solely to bilk taxpayer-funded universities for the sake of upselling a few hotel rooms. As a public service, we're cutting through the fat in search of a few good reasons — or any reason — for these spectacles to exist. Today: The New Year's rush begins with the Armed Forces, Pinstripe, Music City and Insight Bowls.

LOCALE: As baseball stadiums go, you can do a lot worse.
Unlike last year's one-way disaster at Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium's transition from reincarnated bastion of baseball glory to novelty site for mediocre college football has come off largely without a hitch. But that probably shouldn't come as a surprise, considering New York has more of a place in college football history than it gets credit for: National powerhouses Notre Dame and Army clashed annually in various Gotham venues in the twenties, thirties and forties, and the old Yankee Stadium regularly hosted games by local teams from NYU and Fordham before the rise of the NFL (and the increasing commercialization of the "amateur" game) began to overtake college football in the Northeast in the fifties.

The Big Apple even notches a footnote in bowl history as host to the Gotham Bowl in 1961 and 1962, featuring such far-flung participants as Baylor, Utah State, Nebraska and Miami — none of which, it turns out, were very enthusiastic about braving the north Atlantic winters (even to raise money for the March of Dimes), leading to the game's rapid demise after just two years. The old Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan hosted the first Gotham Bowl in '61, less than three years before the storied stadium was demolished (at least it outlived the Gotham Bowl), and the 'Huskers and Hurricanes met for the first time in the postseason not in the Orange Bowl, as they would so many times for big stakes in the eighties and nineties, but in Yankee Stadium in 1962.

TRADITION: The Insight Bowl changes with the times.

In its own way, the lifespan of the Insight Bowl is a window into the fundamental shifts of the evolving American economy over the last quarter century: The game began life in 1989 as the Copper Bowl, and from 1991-95 was sponsored by a hardware company (Weiser Lock), a paean to the fading 20th Century vision of getting stuff out of the ground, making stuff out of it, and selling that stuff. By 1997, the "Copper" title and its hardy corporate overlord had been replaced by a local technology startup, Insight Enterprises, and the game became the first to ride the dot-com boom when it was rechristened as the Insight.com Bowl.

The 'dot-com' part was ditched along with the bursting of the initial tech bubble in 2001, so that the game now appears to represent — rather than a corporate website — the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively. From 2003-07, the Insight Bowl also hosted four games in five years in which the teams combined for more than 80 points, including the greatest comeback in bowl history, Texas Tech's 2006 rally from 38-7 down in the third quarter to beat Minnesota in overtime, 44-41.{YSP:MORE}

SWAG: Helicopter, did you say?

The loot from the Armed Forces Bowl is nice enough: Players from BYU and Tulsa will go home with a Sony Gift suite, a watch, a cam knit beanie, a backpack and a souvenir football. Not a bad haul. But if they leave without taking the air courtesy of the company the effectively invented the commercial helicopter they're getting shortchanged.

SPONSORS, PARADES AND OTHER AMBIANCE: The Pinstripe Bowl is bringing America together.

On the surface, Ames, Iowa, and Piscataway, N.J., don't have much in common. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find two proud cities led by mayors who love their local universities, are slightly awkward on camera and are both willing to wager corn on a win by the hometown heroes.

That's right, Iowa: Piscataway's about to show you how corn is done.

Someone needs to get the Roma Foods guy his own reality show, pronto.

THIS YEAR'S MATCHUP: It's the most superfluous game of the year.

The evening matchup in Nashville is almost compelling in its pointlessness: I defy you to produce anyone, anywhere who really wants to see 6-6 Mississippi State square off against 6-6 Wake Forest, including the majority of Mississippi State and Wake Forest fans. (This coming from someone who has family members attending the game. They can't explain it, either.) The Demon Deacons dropped four of their last five, capped by a 41-7 collapse against Vanderbilt in the season finale; the Bulldogs struggled through a 2-6 disappointment in SEC play and count an overtime escape against Louisiana Tech as their best win of the year.

I stress almost compelling. More than any other bowl this year, the Music City Bowl exists entirely for the sake of its own existence.

STAR POWER: Landry Jones' last ride?

Oklahoma's leading rusher and record-breaking wide receiver are both out with season-ending injuries. Iowa left its All-Big Ten tailback back in Iowa City for disciplinary reasons. The only household name in the house will be Sooner quarterback Landry Jones, who many of you may remember as a strong candidate for the September Heisman.

Whatever hope Jones still had for postseason accolades by the end of October went up in smoke along with Ryan Broyles' knee at Texas A&M: Since Broyles went down on Nov. 5, Jones has zero touchdown passes to five interceptions and comes into tonight off the two worst performances of his career against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. He's also seen his name plummet on draft boards in the process, yielding to Robert Griffin III as the non-Luck quarterback of choice for desperate teams looking for a franchise guy in the top ten. Barring a decisive return to form against the Hawkeyes, Jones' pending decision may not be that tough, after all.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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