It was Miller time on a Stroh Lite night in Schafer City. President Jimmy Carter had called a postbowl news conference and everyone who was anyone was there. Coach Bo and Phyllis. Major Oglivie and Buck Belue. "Gentlemen," the president began, "I have an opening statement."
For the first time in 1981, there was silence on the airwaves. Even Bob Barker shut up. "Gentlemen," the president said, "how 'bout them dawgs?"
After watching 810 minutes of television, you begin to see things. Your eyes look like bloody Marys. Your body feels like a swizzle stick. It begins to dawn on you: New Year's Day really is for the Dawgs.
If Schaefer City is a national landmark of Miller time a state of mind, then New Year's Day is a national state of mindlessness. Images swirl like overripe fruit on a one-arm banit: cotton swabs with roses on the ends, sugar bowls full of orange peels, peaches with thorns. There are golden waves and crimson tides and wolverines that howl at the moon.
There are necks that look like fire hydrants and calves as wide as a wheel of brie, and lots of fanny overhang.
There are long-sleeved jerseys and short-sleeved jerseys and tearaway jerseys and fishnet jerseys. And, oh, so many moms. Irish moms and Huskie moms ad Sooner or later moms. Hi moms.
And through it all, you could smell the goal line and hear America singing, usually the theme from Dallas. Walt Whitman looked down from the heaven and declined to sing along.
The day began at 10 a.m. with the Cotton Boll parade on CBS. It was for the weevils.
At noon, the ants took over. The Tournament of Roses parade is an annual celebration of Yankee ingenuity. Where else can 126 million people watching two networks see ants made up of gladiolus petals and watermelon leaves or three magnificent stags covered with grasses and spices ground up in a food processor?
Phyllis George of CBS won the founders' humanitarian award for wearing purple gloves and a down jacket in 80-degree Pasadena heat just so those of us on Eastern Standard Time wouldn't feel left out.
Bryant Gumble of NBC distinguished himself by staring at a giant yellow jacket made of chrysanthemums and asking, "How hot is it inside that bee?"
John Schneider of CBS won the grand prize for the most florid remark of the day. He described the sheriff of Hazzard Country as being "so mean he used to tape worms to the side-walk and watch robins get a hernia trying to pick them up."
The theme of this year's parade was the great outdoors. At 2 o'clock the commercials for appetite suppressants gave way to good execution and good penetration. It would be an afternoon of good "reads" and good pops.
At the Sugar Bowl, the only one who ever makes any sense, Herschel Walker, never once looked up at his president. The golden helmets of the Fighting Irish glistened like halos in the harsh Superdome light as their fallen coach, Dan Devine, paced along the sideline. When Georgia Bulldog Scott Woerner intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter to consign the Irish to a winter in football purgatory, Keith Jackson cried out in agony, "Where's the logic?"
I was beginning to wonder the same thing.
I did the only thing I could: I changed the channel. But the Cotton Boll was a dawg.
The granddaddy of them all beginning a 4 o'clock featured commentary by Dick (What a (What a moment it would have been) Enberg and a halftime tribute by the University of Michigan band to opthalmology. And, of course, there was Coach Bo, who never before had won in seven bowls and who had gotten a heart attack trying. At 8:10 Coach Bo's face dissolved into that of Coach Bobby Bowden giving his Florida State players a pregame pep talk on prime time. It was the seminal moment in television. Men, he said, "fight for the Orange Bowl. Fight for No. 2. That's not bad, is it?"
Fight for your mamas and papas and, he said, "do the best you can do. That's all I ask."
But television asked more. Television wanted to know at halftime who the players would like to share New Year's with if not with A. J. Neilsen. With Dolly Parton, said one. With Jayne Kennedy, said another. With my two best friends, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.
"With my father's bull because a cow knows as much about football as a hog does about Easter Sunday and then I wouldn't have to answer any more questions about football," said Oklahoma quarterback J. C. Watts.
Twenty minutes later, J. C. sat on the bench, ice packs pressed to his brow, smelling salts under his nose. He had a bum knee, too. He was out of the game. Someone stuck a microphone under the ice packs. "I'll be back," he vowed. With just minutes remaining in the game and in my New Year's marathon, J. C. completed a two-point conversion pass that buried the hatchet in the Seminoles for good. Back along the sideline he praised God and country and the virtues of being a hometown lad. "Thank you, Eufala," he said.
J. C. had paid the price. And so had I.