Sun Spots

Mike Stevens

Emerald Nuts. Capitol One. Tostitos. Outback Steakhouse. Chick-fil-A. If you are wondering what these corporations have in common, it’s likely that you’re not a college football fan. Each has bought itself a college bowl game. Or more accurately by sponsoring one of these season ending pseudo-championships, they purchased naming rights. So the Florida Citrus Bowl became Capitol One Bowl. The Peach Bowl became the Chick-fil-A Bowl. And so on.

Paying to rename a game for a product is not a new phenomenon. The Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl were not named after commodities as a show of solidarity for working farmers. But at least these were staples—generic goods. I’ll swallow a Pizza Bowl. I find the PapaJohns.com Bowl (formerly known as the Birmingham Bowl) tougher to choke down.

I only have so many synapses. And to remain a sentient wage-earner, I must only dedicate a certain number of those precious nodes to following sports. I want to learn the name and location of a bowl game and be done with it. The Sun Bowl, which has been played in my hometown of El Paso, TX, since 1935, should be the Sun Bowl forever as far as I am concerned. But it wasn’t. For many disturbing years it disappeared. In 1986, it became the John Hancock Sun Bowl. Then the insurance provider banished the “Sun” from the Sun Bowl renaming the game the John Hancock Bowl in 1990.

During this time I stumbled frequently over the new reality when discussing past bowl games. Had I been attending John Hancock Bowls all along? We spectators only had memories to contend with. Did former Alabama coach Ray Perkins, who led the Crimson Tide to a Sun Bowl victory in 1983, change his resume? The world grew murkier when John Hancock released its semantic grip only to be replaced by Norwest Bank. It promptly merged with Wells Fargo giving the Sun Bowl its fifth name in roughly 15 years. In 2004, shampoo manufacturer Vitalis got in the naming game. Most recently Brut aftershave put its name on the game.

Ironically these later name swaps have had the benefit of giving weight to the original name. The Norwest Sun Bowl. The Wells Fargo Sun Bowl. The Brut Sun Bowl. To me they all became simply Sun Bowls.

I understand the fiscal reasons for all this name juggling. Money is not easy to come by in El Paso (it remains one of the poorest cities in the country), let alone big time sponsorship money. But the same thing that attracts sponsors—the Sun Bowl’s nation-wide recognition—is its unique contribution to El Paso. When I meet people and tell them where I grew up, if I don’t get a friendly blank stare they mention two things: the Marty Robbins’ song or the Sun Bowl. One of El Paso’s primary identifiers was almost lost. It hardly seems safe now. I remember the Copper Bowl vaguely, but having not heard about it for years, I assumed it was defunct. Not so, I find out. It is now called the Insight Bowl. But it’s dead to me.

Here’s hoping the Weedwhacker Bowl and all of the other college bowl games will soon be only a quaint memory, replaced by a playoff system. Is there anyone left who actually thinks the BCS system makes any sense?

Jim Adolf    Jan 7, 01:23 PM    #

Sure, a playoff would be great, but I’d miss the bowls — all the pomp, the local pride, etc.

— plusone    Jan 7, 02:45 PM    #

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