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Saturday Morning Quarterback
Nov 04, 2012 12:00 am
Bulldogs are bowl-worthy, if there are any
At 6-3 entering today's game against Bluefield, Cumberland isn't likely to reach the NAIA playoffs.
But with two games remaining with first- or third-year programs, the Bulldogs are favored to finish 8-3, a fine season by just about anyone's standard and worthy of a [here's that four-letter word to the BCS busters] bowl.
Cumberland coach Dewayne Alexander said Thursday there aren't many bowls out there for NAIA teams and hasn't heard from anyone interested in having the Bulldogs and another team over for a postseason get-together, but is willing to listen if someone calls.
The TSSAA playoffs kicked off Friday night and for fans of high school football, these are exciting times, especially if you're a fan of one of these teams harboring hopes of a state championship.
For older generations though, bowl games were also once just as thrilling. But the constant expansion of the playoffs has made them extinct in the Volunteer State.
Twenty years ago this fall, I moved to Tullahoma and one of my first assignments was to cover the Lions Bowl. After watching Lebanon's playoff runs for several straight seasons, I wasn't excited about this relic of a bygone era.
But Lions Bowl chairman James H. [Sleepy] McKenzie ran a well-oiled machine when it came to choosing teams [which he made sure I followed the process for advance stories] for the game to printing the pregame program [McKenzie listed me in the program as being in some official capacity, but all I did was cover the event for the Tullahoma News] to hosting the contest to the postgame banquet. It was so smooth, the teams had their plaques, with the championship hardware featuring the winning team's name within an hour of the final horn.
Fans of both teams turned out, of course, but so did the locals. I soon found out the Lions Bowl was a Tullahoma institution talked about by the townspeople, even if some of them didn't know who was playing that year. And I have to admit, it was fun, even for me.
When the playoffs expanded a year or so later to take in the top four teams from each region, an area coach who had played in the game said he'd prefer coaching in the Lions Bowl to facing a region champion as a No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
Even as the playoffs expanded, the bowl remained, adapting to hosting freshman teams. In fact, McKenzie called me seven years ago inquiring about an undefeated Lebanon team. As it turned out, then-coach Bobby Brown hosted his own bowl and invited Montgomery Bell Academy. Twins Matthew and Jacob Maynard led the Blue Devils to victory, but it was just a game without the pageantry.
Longtime Lebanon fans recall the Mid-State Bowl and Trousdale County had the Tobacco Bowl. Watertown even had its own Lions Bowl.
But times changed and bowls had to adapt or die. The Mid-State Bowl closed up shop while the Tobacco Bowl is a preseason jamboree. I even suggested to McKenzie he make the Tullahoma Lions Bowl a jamboree, but Lincoln County had a jamboree which most of the area teams participated in.
The prep playoffs are too big a moneymaker for TSSAA, and the chance at winning one of eight state championships trumps the fun of a one-game postseason in which one team is guaranteed to go out a winner.
But the NAIA playoffs have just 16 teams. There will still be lots of good teams who will miss the field but still make up a quality game.
Like most everything else, money is an issue. It costs to bring in two teams and show them a good time, especially on the lower scale of the NAIA.
But done right, bowls are fun. It would be nice if the 2012 Bulldogs could find out firsthand.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952, ext. 17; or by email at email@example.com