My dad kept a ring in his sock drawer that seemed to weigh about a pound. He got it on Jan. 1, 1949, for playing in the second annual Delta Bowl in Memphis. I imagine the ring stayed in the sock drawer, rather than on his finger, because Dad's Oklahoma State team got beat, 20-0, by William & Mary that day, and also because there never was a third annual Delta Bowl.
Still, there must be a brotherhood of the bowls, because Dad's intensity about college football -- always high -- peaked annually on Jan. 1. In my childhood, they played four major bowl games in one daylong pageant: Cotton, Sugar, Rose and Orange. This was, pre-ESPN, the football glutton's unsurpassable feast. Dad rarely missed a minute. He could outsit a long-range bomber pilot.
My ambition was to prove to him that I could do it, too. But year after year, I fell short. I'd get up to play in the snow, or to help take down the Christmas tree. I asked so many stupid questions -- what's holding? why are they punting again? which team are we cheering for? -- that he was happy to see me go, no doubt.
New Year's Day, 1971, was another opportunity. I was just shy of 10 years old and a local team, the Air Force Academy, was playing Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Colorado was a football scrapheap in those days, so it was rare to have a rooting interest. I stuck loyally through the 34-13 tail-whipping of our Falcons.
The Cotton Bowl was easy, too, because the title was at stake. But what's this? A flashy quarterback named Joe Theismann steered Notre Dame to a 24-11 upset of No. 1-ranked Texas.
Mom was in the kitchen baking ham and boiling lucky black-eyed peas. Dad (assuming he had not recently been scolded by his doctor) was no doubt squeezing in beside her during timeouts to fill up on peanut butter by the tablespoonful.
I can't say for certain that I didn't slip out for a half-hour of pedaling my bike around the schoolyard. But I do know I saw most, if not all, of the Rose Bowl. With Texas out, No. 2 Ohio State had a shot at the championship. But those up-the-middle Buckeyes were surprised by Stanford's Jim Plunkett flinging bombs.
There was a lot of stretching and seat-shifting as night opened onto a third title match. Dad left his easy chair for his traditional last-game sprawl across the den floor. No. 3 Nebraska lined up against Louisiana State in the Orange Bowl.
The Huskers fired out to a 10-0 lead.
Then the Tigers fought back, going ahead 12-10 on the last play of the third quarter.
From there, I was coasting home. With 8 minutes 50 seconds left, Nebraska elected to go for it on fourth and one. Quarterback Jerry Tagge somehow stre-e-e-e-tched himself over the goal line for the victory and the national championship.
I think I felt closer to Dad just then than I ever felt before, and not just because I had completed his marathon. I finally understood what it was to love college football. Neither of those feelings is the sort of thing that ever comes to an end.
The author writes for The Washington Post Magazine.