For much of America, New Year’s Day is all about the bowl games. And why not? Sitting in front of the TV watching college football is a great way to avoid coming up with resolutions to better yourself. As we speak, I’m watching Alabama trounce Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. Which sure beats resolving to do Yoga in 2011.
The problem with bowl games these days is that there are so many of them it’s no longer quite the honor it once was. And the names of the games reflect this. Sure, the traditional bowl games still exist but they all carry corporate sponsors: The Rose Bowl Presented by Visio, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, The AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, and the All State Sugar Bowl. Ugh.
But I guess it’s better than playing in one of those other new-fangled and less prestigious games like the GoDaddy.com Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl, or the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl.
I actually played in a famous bowl game with years of tradition behind it: The Lavabo Bowl**. This was the annual flag football game between my seminary, Seabury-Western in Evanston, Illinois, and the Episcopal seminary just to the north, Nashotah House in Racine, Wisconsin. And before you reject the whole notion of a bunch of future Episcopal priests going at each other, this game was war. It began with a pre-game “liturgy” with incense, incantations, and the blessing of the pig skin. Despite the prayer to protect us from injuries, there were always at least a few. Rumor had it that one player had a spleen removed after one such encounter.
While the Lavabo Bowl is no longer played (it petered out as Seabury was winding down its Master of Divinity program), those who played in it will never forget the experience. Our proudest moment came in 1997 when we tied Nashotah before the game was called on account of darkness. We had held many practices that fall, preparing for the game and were decided underdogs.
By that time Nashotah was full of young men from Texas. We were a pretty rag tag unit in comparison. But we did have a former high school quarterback and a running back who had been a member of the Junior National Speedskating Team. It was a tough game and was much more physical than the term “flag football” implies. But we ended up with a fine moral victory and left Nashotah without a major injury.
If the game was still being played perhaps it would be known as the Almy Lavabo Bowl or the Wippel’s Lavabo Bowl Classic. Who knows? But an endorsement deal that included new cassocks would be hard to turn down.
Enjoy the rest of this year’s line-up of college football games, have a happy New Year, and take notice of the Lavabo bowl the next time you’re in church.
**Yes, this is liturgical humor. The Lavabo bowl is what a priest ritually washes his or her hands in before saying the eucharistic prayer.