When I arrived at the Cherry Bowl Saturday, I was greeted by several workers. One of them handed me a big envelope.

“Is everything in here?” I asked.

“Yes,” answered a woman. “Your credential, the stats, and 100 dollars for being nice enough to show up.”

Turns out she was kidding. About the money, I mean. Which was too bad. Because that might have worked. Can you imagine if everyone who opened his Cherry Bowl ticket envelope found a crisp, new $100 bill inside? (“Hey, uh, Miss? Can I have a few more tickets? For my sister-in-law’s family. Yeah. There’s 28 of them.”)

OK, so it might not work. But I’m just making a point here. Secondary fruit bowls need some kind of incentive. Or else they wind up like the Cherry Bowl. Which missed a sellout Saturday by only, oh, 50,000 seats.

Surprised? Maybe you heard there were at least that many seats already gone. TV said so. Newspapers said so.

Yeah. Well. There’s “sold,” and there’s “used.” Apparently, thousands of tickets were sold to corporations, which distributed them to, I don’t know, customers, I guess, who put them in an envelope and gave them as Christmas presents to their doormen, who put them in their sock drawers and forgot about them, and went bowling.

Something like that. No Mardi Gras here

Bowls are supposed to be celebrations. Pageantry. A Mardi Gras squeezed into a football stadium. Not Saturday. Not at the Silverdome.

Why? Well, for one thing, the teams playing in the Cherry Bowl were Syracuse and Maryland, which would have been fine if this was Syracuse or Maryland, or even Indianapolis. People get excited over any sport in Indianapolis. Honest to God. If I were organizing a league of professional turkey shooters, I’d open it in Indianapolis. And I bet it would sell out.

But this was Pontiac, Mich. On the last weekend before Christmas, and you’ve got to figure that getting people around here to pony up 20 bucks — which can buy at least two arms and a leg worth of Cabbage Patch doll — to see two teams that wouldn’t know a Great Lake from a Very Good one, is going to be trouble.

It was tougher getting past the entrance to the Northland Mall than it was getting into the Silverdome parking lot Saturday.

“I’m not disappointed,” said Frank (Muddy) Waters, executive director of the Cherry Bowl. He looked disappointed.

Last year, this thing drew 72,000. Last year Michigan State was in it.

This year, we had two distant teams whose combined record was 15-7. They were lucky if 32,000 showed up.

“There’s a Lions game here tomorrow,” said Waters, offering explanations.
“I’ll bet at least 10,000 people didn’t come because they couldn’t take two games in one weekend.”

That’s stretching. Many people can’t take a Lions game, period.

Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson said a bowl game is “what every player dreams of.” But when the Syracuse players burst through the Silverdome tunnel to the applause of your average church raffle, I doubt they were thinking,
“Oh, my. It’s a dream come true.”

OK. I know a bowl is good for the area. And I don’t mean to knock it. But it’s like the Emperor’s new clothes. Naked is naked. Ask any player who scored a touchdown in the Syracuse end zone Saturday. Do you know how many people were sitting behind the Syracuse end zone Saturday?

Two hundred and twenty three.

I counted them during a time-out. Entertaining game

Now admittedly, attendance isn’t everything. And, yes, Saturday’s Cherry Bowl was a pretty entertaining game. Lots of offense. Lots of movement. Maryland won, 35-18. But who cared?

“Most people can’t just enjoy a pure football game anymore,” Waters said.
“They’re too caught up in rooting for their home team.”

Yeah. Well. I guess that’s true. But people get caught up in a lot of things. That includes making money. Which, after all, is largely what bowls are all about. People don’t organize these things for the hell of it. Somebody is making money from Saturday’s game, though I wouldn’t want to co-sign on his mortgage.

And that’s not a crime. And admittedly, it’s hard to break into the clique of “big” bowl games, which snap up the best teams early.

But there must be a balance between not giving up and not embarrassing yourself. Maybe move the Cherry Bowl to after Christmas. Maybe ensure that at least one team is of local interest.

We shouldn’t have to see another one like Saturday’s, with apologies to the teams involved.

Wasn’t it Erma Bombeck who said: “If life is a bowl of cherries, what are we doing in the pits?” I figure there’s an answer for the Cherry Bowl in there somewhere. And I’m still looking for it. That, and the $100.

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