Can there be anything more uniquely American than college football bowl games on New Year’s Day (or on 1/2/2006 this year because of 1/1 falling on Sunday)?

Having actually attended a New Year’s day game, and feeling free to admit that after a traditional Southern meal of collards and black eyed peas, I have sat down in front of the tube to watch up to seven consecutive games in years past; I have often wondered how the bowl game event appears to those who are either not native to the USA or who have never really been close to the culture that produces them.

Today’s six games continue a tradition started at the close of the 1800’s in Pasadena, CA when an exibition football game was needed to complement the “Tournament of Roses” parade. Since then, New Year’s Day in America has been a decidely conservative event, wrapped in archaic traditions and overflowing with an amalgamation of pop, folk, regional, and high-capitalist culture. There is probably no other day when these particular blends of American life combine to form as rich a tapestry as they do on New Year’s Day.

The “Tournament of Roses” parade is still the most amazingly complex and beautiful parade of its kind.

Lots of sportswriters and Joe Six Pack’s at home on the couch would like to see a NCAA Division IA football playoff. Lots of arguments can be made for that. An argument that can be made against it is what we would lose culturally were these wonderful festivals were to go.

Most bowls are year long events with basketball tournaments, parades, youth sports events, 5K runs, charity drives and other community building events. A mere rundown of the bowls confirms this.

The bowls are conservative, not in some public policy way, or in some hot-button issue of that consumes people; but conservative in that they honor and build community and that they rise organically from the individual communities. No bowl would exist were it not for the much-maligned bright-colored blazer wearing official. Capital One, Citi, AT&T, Toyota, and Nokia all pony up large sponsorship dollars, but the volunters, fueled by civic pride, love of amatuer athletics and ground-level commercial interests drive these events. And the events invite, not force large parts of the nation slumbering from the post-holiday festivities and winter blues to get up and participate as spectators, band members in parades, athletes and contributors.

The fact that they invite universities from across the land with their unique combination of traditions and youth shows the dual nature of these most conservative of events.

New Year’s Day in America is understated in a gaudy way with these bowls. There is probably no better way to understand what America is like at its core than to observe communities preparing for the bowls.

Happy New Year!
Click on the bowl to see their year long competition, the teams to see box scores as they become available.

Outback Bowl
Iowa vs. Florida

Toyota Gator Bowl
Louisville vs. Virginia Tech

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Texas Tech vs. Alabama

Capital One Bowl
Auburn vs. Wisconsin

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

Nokia Sugar Bowl
Georgia vs. West Virginia

FedEx Orange Bowl
Penn. St. vs. Florida St.

Rose Bowl presented by Citi
USC vs. Texas