HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — I plop on the hotel bed. I turn on the reading light. Here, in my lap, are rosters, old newspapers, and media guides. I blow off the dust.

It is bowl week.

Time to relearn everything.

“Let’s see,” I say. “Michigan. OK. I know they had a decent season. I think they won the Big Ten. It seems to me there was something about ties, wasn’t there? Lots of ties?”

I rack my brain. How long has it been? A year? It feels like a year. I know the last time this Wolverines team played football was before Thanksgiving, which was before Christmas shopping, which was before my wallet shriveled to the size of a corn flake. It has been that long.

“The quarterback is . . .” I say, testing myself with flash cards, “Elvis .
. . Costello! No. Wait. Elvis . . . Peacock! No. Hang on. I’ll get it.”

I’ll get it. By New Year’s, I’ll get it. But isn’t there something strange about all this? What other sport goes pedal- to-the-metal for 11 straight weeks, then screeches to a halt, disappears — then comes back a month later for one more game?

What other sport does this? In college basketball, they end the regular season one week, start the tournament the next. In pro hockey, the season ends on Sunday, they’re into playoffs by Wednesday. In Olympic swimming, they do the heats in the morning and the finals that same afternoon.

And then we have college football.

September to November.

And one day in January.

“Don’t tell me,” I say to the flash card, “he runs like a madman. He scores a lot of touchdowns. His name is Tyrone . . . Power! No? Wait a second.”

Watch those hands

It doesn’t make sense. From late August on, these football kids are together every day. They go through films and practice and films and practice. They eat dinner together, board the bus together, dress together, shower together. On Friday they talk about what they’ll do right and on Sunday they talk about what they did wrong. Day after day, hour after hour. They are breathing, sleeping, eating football.

And then it stops. No more practice. Go study for finals. Go visit your families. Wait a month. And then . . .

. . . shrrieeekk! the whistle blows. Quick. Back to practice. One more game. Everyone get dressed!

Geez. Talk about Tacklus Interruptus! I’m surprised the first snap on bowl day doesn’t go like this: QUARTERBACK: Set, huuuttt– OFFENSIVE TACKLE: HEY, watch it! QUARTERBACK: Oops. Sorry. CENTER: Pssst. Over here.

“Let’s see,” I mumble, studying my notes, “he is a big-time Wolverines player, and people think he’ll go very high in the draft. His name is Chris .
. . Chris . . . Webber! No. Wait. He plays basketball.”

Predictions? How can you make predictions? So much has changed. The last time you saw a bowl team, it might have been missing half the players it will start on New Year’s Day. Guys who couldn’t walk five weeks ago are now ready to go ’till sundown. Guys who seemed fine five weeks ago are wearing casts from when they fell on the ice over Thanksgiving break.

Momentum? What about momentum? All season long coaches say, “We’ve got momentum after our season opener. . . . We got momentum going into our conference schedule. . . . We got real momentum going into this Ohio State game.”

And now? What momentum? It’s as if all the cars on the track were called into the pits. And on January 1st they yell, “Gentlemen start your engines .
. . again!”

Bring on the Blue Devils

Now. It would be one thing if the sports world took a break along with college football. If we laid back, went to sleep and woke up on New Year’s Eve. But this sports ticker, like those Eveready batteries, just keeps going, and going and going. Why, since we last saw Michigan or Washington play football, we have seen 1) Barry Bonds sign for $43 million. 2) Football say yes to free agency. 3) Eric Lindros in handcuffs. 4) Joe Montana in the huddle. 5) Marge Schott. 6) John and Tatum. 7) Duke beating U-M in basketball.

OK. So we see that last one every six months or so. The point is this: How can you remember where you left off in college football, when so much else has happened? Why, already the Heisman trophy seems a blur. Toretta, right? It was Gino Toretta? Or was it Garrison Hearst?

And how much did Billy Joe Hobart spend on guns and parties? Was it
$50,000? Or was that just the guns part? And isn’t somebody new coaching Arkansas this week?

Who’s in the Weed Eater bowl? Do they still have the Weed Eater bowl? Did they already play it? Miami’s No. 1 right? And Alabama’s No. 2? And No. 3 is .
. . No. 3 is . . . No. 3 is . . .

“He was the leading receiver on the team,” I recite, reading the flashcard,
“and he is very good on kickoff returns. His name is — don’t tell me — I know this one . . . Desmond Howard, right?”

Derrick Alexander?

How many days ’till New Year’s?

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