Illustration by Tim Foley
Last year, as I sat in the pew just before Christmas Eve Mass, I should’ve been happy and content. Surrounded by family and friends at a magical time of year, life was good.
Instead, I was furious.
In the 20 minutes it took me to dress at home, drive to St. John Neumann Church, and settle into our regular pew, Western Kentucky had given up 34 unanswered points to Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl, turning an easy win against the point spread into a stupefying “defeat.” It didn’t matter that WKU actually won the game, 49-48. It had blown the three-and-a-half-point spread.
Why did I care so much about the most minor of bowl games? Blame it on Brent Musburger.
Since 1988, my friend Mark “Katz” Howlin and I have picked all of the bowl games—against the spread, of course. The one with the most picks has the right to call the other “Brent Musburger” for a year. Answering to the appellation of a vexatious ESPN commentator for 365 days (366 this year) is as appealing as watching every single Sixers game for a season, plus an excruciating six bonus months.
Sadly, we can’t take credit for the idea. That distinction goes to Mike Mayock and Tom Carelli, a pair of Boston College graduates who came up with the “Slider Bowl” a year earlier. Premised on a character from Top Gun, it operates on the same principle as its Musburger cousin: Pick the games, and then agonize over the outcomes of teams about which you care not a bit.
Still, the Slider Bowl has lost some of its appeal, as its two combatants don’t pick all of the games—there are a staggering 41 this year—and don’t spend much time together watching them. We, on the other hand, host a “selection show” at Roach & O’Brien, Haverford’s home to the Main Line glitterati. Last year, under a cloud of cigar smoke, with adult beverages flowing, we decided whether TCU could cover the spread against Mississippi (it did, much to my delight) and if Michigan State was a strong underdog against Baylor (the Spartans were). We’ve even created a special dish, the Brent Musburger Platter, a meal for two that consists of a cheeseburger, a cheesesteak and a Texas Tommy, with a side of onion rings.
While the bowl season lasts nearly two weeks into January, it reaches its peak on New Year’s Day, when a pile of gentlemen—and brave spouses—invades my home to watch games on five TVs, gorge on high-calorie snacks, crack off-color jokes, and follow the Musburger madness.
Forget the Mummers—this is the only way to start the year.
In December of 2012, Katz enlisted a “shaman” to help with his picks, and he subsequently won two years straight. Last year, as he planned a number of embarrassing ways to shame me, I avoided the first-ever Brent three-peat.
There have been other rivalries—like the Lane Bryant Clambake Bowl and the Olenka/Grizelda Bowl. The Brittany Bowl is a newcomer, and we’re rooting for its success.
But the Musburger Bowl endures. And this year, there will be three long weeks of agonizing over game results. It’s practically masochism. But winning makes the suffering worthwhile.
Broomall’s Michael Bradley has plans on New Year’s Day.