JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If I had a dog — which I do, but I mean if I had a dog with me, right now, down here — I would say to him, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Or rather, “Toto, we’re not at the Rose Bowl anymore.” That’s assuming his name was Toto, of course. And that he remembered the Rose Bowl. I remember the Rose Bowl. In fact, this morning I remember the Rose Bowl the way I remember my first girlfriend. I miss it desperately. I want it back in my arms. I spent the last three New Year’s at that event, living in a hotel near the beach, where, each morning, they put a rose on your breakfast table.

They do that kind of thing in Southern California. Here in Jacksonville, things are a little different. Here, we are not far from Fat Boy’s Real Pit Bar-B-Que, which is not far from Bubba’s Bar-b-que, which is not far from Church’s Bar-b-que which advertises, among other things, smoked goat. You just can’t get that in Southern California. Also, there are no roses on the breakfast table here. There are grits.

None of this really matters — except maybe to the dog, who probably likes grits. What does matter — and the worst part of this NO-ROSE BOWL-FOR-MICHIGAN-OR-MICHIGAN STATE BUSINESS — is this corporate thing.

Allow me to demonstrate.

“Welcome to the Gator Bow–“

ZZZAPPP!

“Sorry. The Mazda Gator Bowl.”

That’s right. In case you were too busy decorating the Christmas tree with your official Kmart Bulbs, and your official Pepperidge Farms Gingerbread Men, and your official Kraft Candy Canes, here is the news: College football has become one big corporate billboard.

“MAZDA GATOR BOWL!”

“SMOKED GOAT!”

Go blue. It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere!

Look around. It’s everywhere. The Cotton Bowl is now The Mobil Cotton Bowl.

The Fiesta Bowl is now The Sunkist Fiesta Bowl. The Holiday Bowl is now The Sea World Holiday Bowl. (“Shamu, the killer whale, will twirl a baton!”) Companies have seized New Year’s the way they seized every inch of a tennis player’s body. Football, in their minds, is one big, blinking neon sign.

Now, I admit, I always thought it was kind of silly for mammoth defensive linemen to play in something called the Peach Bowl. Or the Raisin Bowl. But fruit — any kind of fruit — has got to be better than this: the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl. Weed Eater? Some team actually needs a winning season to get into the Weed Eater Bowl? It sounds like where they send you on probation.

This stuff has to be a letdown for players. You can see them, years from now, with their grandchildren: “You know, Jimmy, when I was young I scored the winning touchdown in the Blockbuster Bowl.”

“Wow, Grandpa! Did you get a free rental?”

And what’s next? I figure, with corporations footing the bills, it’s just a matter of time before they start telling the cheerleaders to mix in some product with the rah-rahs. You can just imagine the cheers at this Mazda Gator Bowl:

Push ’em back,

Shove ’em back

Rooooootary engine! Or the John Hancock Bowl:

Two, Four, Six, Eight

Assets will depreciate!

Or the Federal Express Orange Bowl

Make ’em sweat, make ’em dirty

We deliver

By ten-thirty!

Or the Domino’s Pizza Copper Bowl:

Give ’em heck, give ’em hell

Our boss fired

Ernie Harwell! Hey, they had it coming

Of course, it’s not like college football didn’t ask for this. Every November, greedy teams auction themselves as if part of a brothel. The final weeks of the season are repulsive, with little men in funny-colored jackets stuffing the press boxes of lucrative teams, making behind-the-scenes deals, cursing when the team they thought they stole from old Billy Bob with Mobil turns out to be no better than the team Jimmy Joe suckered in with Blockbuster.

And you can bet, when you watch these bowl games on New Year’s, you’ll see logos, logos and more logos. The formula is sadly familiar: To advertise its product, the corporation wants the highest TV ratings. For that, it needs the best teams. For that, it spends a lot of money. And to justify the money, it needs to stick its name just about everywhere, including the lapel of your jacket. Yes. Most bowl games have pins that they want you to wear on the lapel of your jacket. If the Mazda people throw in a car, I’ll think about it.

Until then, I’ll miss the Rose Bowl. Don’t misunderstand. I’m happy for the Wolverines and Spartans players. They deserve a great bowl experience. But with all this commercialism, I can’t help wishing one of them had made it to Pasadena, where tradition still rules: Big Ten champ vs. Pac-10 champ. No negotiating. No corporate name. Sure, some of the games have been as thrilling as two rhinos playing in the mud. So? You pick your poison.

I guess what I’m saying is this: In the end, I’d rather have a tiny rose on my lapel.

It beats a tiny Weed Eater.

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