Love for bowl games borders on unhealthy

Who’s playing Wednesday? Wednesday night? Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan? Where? Who cares? What time? 7:30 p.m.? OK, kid, get that abysmal abomination Austin & ‘n’ Ally off the TV, get your teeth brushed and get to bed so Daddy can get a hit.

I’m a bowl junkie. I find them fascinating: teams generally unfamiliar with each other or the public in pitched battles after two to six weeks of down time. Orange, Rose, Cotton, Poulin Weed Eater Independence, IBM OS/2 Fiesta, Garden State, I can’t resist.

As I drove around Saturday, the iPod with the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and A Motown Christmas (1973 compilation, excellent) remained in my pocket. My Mustang rolled to the call of the New Orleans Bowl. The night before, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl provided accompaniment to cleaning a kitchen cabinet out of sight, but not earshot.

Ironically, my job limits the yearly size of the bowl monkey on my back. Covering games, traveling, sometimes spending nights on the phone doing interviews prevents paying rapt attention to every BBVA Compass Bowl or Liberty Bowl.

Bowl-game season drowns me in nostalgia. I’m snatched back to the days of holiday school breaks with a lot of time, little money and even less broad exposure to college football (I’m talking ABC, CBS, only one ESPN). Lazy days spent playing with Christmas presents (even into adulthood) and wallowing in football … could life get better?

But, also, you never know who or what you’re going to see. For years, The Holiday Bowl stood as the Old Ebbit’s crab cakes, the appetizer flavorful enough to be a meal. Those watching the 1980 Holiday Bowl saw College and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, Craig James and SMU’s young Pony Express blow a 20-point lead in the last three minutes to Jim McMahon-led Brigham Young.

The Sugar Bowl would love to have a game as exciting as last year’s New Orleans Bowl, Louisiana-Lafayette beating San Diego State on a 50-yard field goal as time ran out. The Sugar likely would take 60 minutes as gripping as this year’s New Orleans Bowl, Louisiana taking a 28-7 lead on East Carolina, seeing it chopped to 37-34, then hanging on for a 43-34 win.

Speaking of SMU, had you heard of defensive end Margus Hunt before the Hawaii Bowl? If you’re sitting next to an NFL scout, wipe his chin after mentioning Hunt’s name. Hunt is a 6-8, 280-pound Estonian track athlete (discus and shot put) who got convinced to try football. By halftime against Fresno State, he had two sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety. SMU rolled to a 43-10 win.

Covering college football in 1988, I had followed the Oklahoma State running back’s numbers throughout his remarkable, Heisman Trophy season. But the 1988 Holiday Bowl was the first time many of us saw a full game of Barry Sanders as Oklahoma State put up 62 points on Wyoming.

Sanders’ all-purpose yards record of 3,250 set that season could fall to Western Kentucky running back Antonio Andrews on Wednesday. Andrews, who returns kickoffs in addition to running and catching in an offense that throws downfield once a game just to keep the safeties awake, needs only 274 yards to beat Sanders’ mark.

And if he does, I’ll be watching, in the midst of my yearly addiction.