Fight Songs and Drone Strikes

Some years ago, I remember watching the Chick-Fil-A® Peach Bowl with my father. It was almost certainly the late 1990s because corporate sponsorships had just begun to run roughshod over the college bowl scene. I remember my father asking me, “What is ‘chick-fill-uh’?” I had no idea. Since we lived above the Mason-Dixon line, neither of us had heard of Chick-fil-A® or its chicken sandwiches, so we were utterly confounded and unable to piece the syllables together correctly to sound out “chick fillet.” I wondered why a company would sponsor a nationally-televised game for which a large part of its audience (Northern folk) would be so unfamiliar with the restaurant that it would be unable to unlock the complex phonetic code of its name.

I’m old enough to remember a time when college bowls weren’t corporately sponsored—a time when regional flora served as inspiration enough for the title of a football game, when the Rose Bowl was “The Rose Bowl” not “The Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio (or Citi or AT&T)”—and I initially found the intrusion of Tostitos (Fiesta Bowl), Nokia (Sugar Bowl), and others into the realm of college bowl games to be crass and kind of stupid. Few images are as pleasantly burned into my mind as the frustrated attempts of a Tostitos executive to hand then-Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer a bag of Tostitos after the Volunteers had won the National Championship. Whether Phil was resistant to or ignorant about product placement is irrelevant; to me, Phil was making a principled stand against the intrusion of corporations onto college football bowl games. Sure, companies could bankroll a university’s entire athletic department, but being forced to hold onto a bag of tortilla chips on national television was a bridge too far.

Then I got over myself, sort of, and began to enjoy the ridiculous spectacle and hyper-commercialism of college football. Now the traditional bowl names just sound pretentious. Can we just dispense with the silly formality of calling it the Discover Orange Bowl: it’s the Discover Bowl.

My personal favorite was the Poulan Weed-Eater (Independence) Bowl, which was actually a perfect corporate-thematic fit, since who doesn’t associate some modest form of independence with trimming those hard-to-reach places on your lawn. Sadly, the Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl has gone the way of all flesh, and now the Independence Bowl is sponsored by Advocare V100, some kind of multivitamin fitness supplement.

This year’s slate of games has some creative sponsoring going on with some exciting and unfamiliar companies. You might ask, “What is a Beef O’ Brady?” Well, it’s a restaurant and sports bar chain in the TGIFriday’s/Bennigan’s/Chili’s/Applebee’s/Ruby Tuesday/Red Robin milieu located primarily in the American Southeast. “Great,” you say. “How do I bring a Beef O’Brady’s franchise northward?” Don’t bother. Beef O’Brady franchises are not exactly a sound investment.

If you’re still wondering how to make sense of the Belks and the R+L Carriers of corporate-bowl-sponsor world, thankfully the good people at caller.com of Corpus Christi, TX have done a deep reading of the bowl sponsors to help us make sense of these strange bowl-corporate-sponsors, so that we might be familiar with the Belks and R+L Carriers of the world:

Food is king among bowl sponsors for the third straight season. The 2013-14 bowl season includes seven bowls with food affiliations, from potatoes to pizza to wild wings. Second on the list are financial companies with six and auto-related companies are third with five. This year’s bowl lineup also includes a helicopter company, a university, a defense contractor, a department store and a cause (Fight Hunger).

Fried foods, car parts, and investment banks: a pretty accurate swath of twenty-first century America.

But a helicopter company? A defense contractor? Both do sponsor military-themed bowls but even so these sponsorships still seem out of place. A good corporate sponsor helps you forget about the complexities of armed geopolitical conflict not remind you of it. Have college bowls gone the way of disaster capitalism? Will Halliburton eventually sponsor the Rose Bowl? Perhaps. Here’s the promotional video for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl:

The allusion to the famed “Flight of the Valkyries” scene from Apocalypse Nowcertainly adds a bit of dramatic flair, but I wonder if the marketing department of the Bell Helicopter Bowl really thought through the substitution of “football” for “napalm.” Of course, when you consider the rash of CTE injuries and the bodily damage suffered by football players, the substitution ends up making more sense than it should. But if helicopters seem too pilot-dependent for your needs, look no further than the Bat™ Unmanned Aircraft System offered by Northop Grumman, sponsor of the Military Bowl.

So my nostalgia for the days when college bowl games didn’t have corporate sponsors has been replaced by my nostalgia for days when the most loathsome bowl sponsor was a fast-food restaurant specializing in chicken sandwiches and fighting the homosexual agenda, for days when college bowl games weren’t part of the military-industrial complex.

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