We are presently smack dab in the middle of MAS' favorite time of the sports year — the college football bowl season.

Between Dec. 20 and Jan. 4, a whopping 38 bowl games will be played.

And MAS makes it a point to watch at least part of every single one on TV (as Willie Nelson sings: "It ain't no life — ahhh, but it's MY life).

Maybe it's the fond memories bowl games stir in MAS. (More on this later.)

Already there have been some incredible contests.

Take the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl.

Central Michigan trailed Western Kentucky 49-14 in the fourth quarter, then rallied to pull within an extra point of a tie after scoring — as time expired — on a spectacular 80-yard Hail Mary/Cal-Stanford lateral play.

CMU then went for two points and the win — but failed.

Whatta game!

Small wonder then, every year MAS must control his anger when, invariably, some pencil-necked geek of a sportscaster or blogger has the gall to sniff that there are too many bowl games.

Or even worse, mock so-called "minor" ones.

If these punk pundits had ever snapped on a chinstrap they would know better than to ever criticize or ridicule bowl games.

Every college coach and player ever invited to one has only good things to say about the bowl experience.

From famed ex-Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz all the way down to MAS, the former small college player, all agree: a bowl game is truly an honor and a source of great memories that will last a lifetime.

What bowl game did MAS play in?

I thought you would never ask!

Eons ago, he participated in the now defunct — no snickering, please — Gem City Bowl in, um, scenic Erie, Pennsylvania.

MAS brings up that contest not to brag or in an attempt to impress you. But, rather, to illustrate why he and all the other bowl invitees feel the way they do.

The Gem City Bowl was an All-Star game that featured mainly stick-out players from Division I universities from the East and Midwest — schools like Kent State, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Akron and the like.

(Only a few years earlier, Ara Parseghian, then Miami of Ohio coach, had led one of the game's sides before going on to fame as the man who restored Notre Dame to its former glory.)

The Gem City Bowl filled out its rosters annually with Division II guys like MAS, an undersized linebacker from little-known Kutztown (Pa.) University.

Turns out the size of your heart is all that matters, however.

Though he was one of the smallest players on the field at 182 cm and 82 kg, MAS would hold his own and was selected as a co-captain of the East team.

MAS ended up having the experience of a lifetime — both on and off the field.

Allow him to first recount a mind-blowing true story that occurred in the lead-up to the game.

MAS had become buds during the week with two opposition players from Western Michigan.

The pair had planned to catch a touring rock-n-roll show playing in Erie one night that week; they asked MAS if he wanted to go along.

One of them was Troy Allen, a swift and tough running back who would go on to play for the Oakland Raiders.

Seems Troy was from Detroit and knew these three hometown gals who were members of a rising singing group that was part of the show.

He had made arrangements to hook up with them after the performance for a night on the town.

And the grid twosome needed a third wheel.

But pre-MAS begged off, saying he would need all his rest if he was to hang with bigger, faster and stronger competition than he was used to.

Long story short: HUGE mistake!

Those three female singers, who were just beginning to catch on that fall, would EXPLODE upon the American music scene the very next summer.

That group's name?

The Supremes.


OK, so studly Troy would have probably taken Diana Ross and George — the second guy, a lanky wide receiver — would likely have partnered up with Mary Wilson, the prettiest Supreme.

Fine with MAS. He always preferred Sup #3, Florence Ballard, anyway.


Oh, well.

But at least MAS' dedication to the task at hand would pay off.

He ended up leading both teams in tackles as his East team rallied for a thrilling 21-20 win before a much larger crowd than MAS was used to performing in front of.

Lack of space precludes all but one final actual Gem City Bowl tale.

We had been promised a "cherished memento" in our invitational letter.

After the game the players were told to report to the bowl committee office at our hotel to pick our gift up.

MAS was thinking: a watch would be nice.

When he entered the appointed room, seated at a table was the game's chairman — wearing a wide-brimmed fedora and a mushed-in nose, his necktie loosened. Smoke billowed from a stogie clenched between his teeth.

He had a huge wad of twenty dollar bills in his hand. After licking his thumb, he peeled off two Andrew Jacksons and handed them to me.

"T'anks fer playin' ", he muttered — without even looking up.

(Translation: Here, buy yer own friggin' watch.)

MAS has a hundred other fond Gem City Bowl remembrances.

But because he is not one to dwell in the past, this is one of the few times MAS has ever recounted any of them.

Suffice to say, despite being a relatively small affair the Gem City Bowl was still a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.

I'm sure each of the players in this season's bowl games — no matter the size — will also have their own experiences to savor (hopefully with no mobster-like characters or cash involved).

So, next time you hear some jerk put down a "minor" bowl game, ask him this question: What bowl did YOU play in?

MAS guarantees what his answer will be: None of them.

Contact Man About Sports at: [email protected]