SHREVEPORT, La. -- A strange thing happened to the Maryland Terrapins on the way to the 2-9 football season everyone predicted for them this year. They wound up in a football bowl game here in football country.
Excuse me. Make that foot-bawl country. Since I'm down here, I might as well pronounce it right. College foot-bawl country. Brother, this is it. The heart of it. The band of Ronald Reagan's America stretching east from Texas to Florida, south from Tennessee to the Gulf. College foot-bawl is the game down here, sir.
The people couldn't give a whit about the escalating price of a baseball free agent, or the Niners' chances of three-peating, or whether Magic is better than Michael. Give them the choice of a ticket to the Super Bowl, the World Series or Alabama-Auburn, and they'll take 'Bama. They might even take LSU-Ole Miss if it's a good seat.
This is it. This is the part of the country where they whoop and holler in tongue and paint their faces metallic purple and wear wide-brim hats with hog snouts on top. This is where they wait in line for a week to get an unreserved seat up in the nosebleeds. This is where they cry crocodile tears when they lose, and call for the coach's head when they lose two.
This is where the issue of Pat Dye playing for ties is Topic A, where everyone may not remember who won the World Series in October but darn sure know who went to the Sugar Bowl the past 10 years. This is where people drive around with bumper stickers saying such things as, "I Belch When I Eat Gator Meat," and other drivers honk and shake their fists in agreement.
This is where they actually pay attention to those fuzzy-wuzzy coaches' shows on the cable-access channels, where fully grown men say such pithy things as "our soph-a-more student-ath-a-letes are maturin' into men" without a hint of irony.
This is where they have all but perfected the art of cheating like hell. Texas, home of the Southwest Conference, is less than 100 miles to the west. They've been on the cutting edge of probation for years over there. You can almost smell the slush funds and balloon auto loans from here.
Now, it is true that the people here have recently started putting up with basketball -- known locally as "thump" -- and actually get a little excited about it now and then. But in the end, it's just a time-killer. A way to scratch the days off the wall until daddy foot-bawl kicks in. It's a miracle Ben McDonald got away without getting his hand broken making a tackle.
The Terps are down here to play Louisiana Tech in the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl, the first of 12 bowls to be played in foot-bawl country this year. (Actually 13 if you include the Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic.) The Terps don't get down here too often. They're relearning the territory this week.
When they got off the plane the other day, they passed through a happy gauntlet of cheering Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl official Peppettes, or Weedeaterettes.
You know right away where you are. You don't find official Weedeaterettes anywhere but foot-bawl country.
(A disclaimer. In some parts it is not pronounced foot-bawl, but fooball, rolling off the tongue in a quick whoosh without the "t" in foot. Fooball. Coaches, for some reason, are predisposed to this version. As in, "ability-wise and intelligence-wise, he's an outstanding fooball player.")
Actually, you know right away it's foot-bawl country because no one thinks it's the least bit funny that this is really called the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl. They could call it the Hershey's Real Chocolate with Almonds Independence Bowl, or the Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Independence Bowl, and no one would think it's funny. It's a bowl, see. A foot-bawl bowl. The promised land. You play all year for it. You brag about it. You don't laugh.
(Incidentally, I plan to mention to local officials that they consider changing the name of their game to include another product manufactured by Poulan. It's an ad man's dream: The Electric Chain Saw Bowl. Or, for short, the Buzz Bowl. Better than the Hand-Held Blower Bowl, eh?)
Anyway, now the Terps are getting ready to play a team with a head coach named -- get this -- Joe Raymond Peace. Honest. I'm not making it up. That's really his name. If it
isn't the perfect by-God name for a foot-bawl country coach, the perfect by-God name hasn't been invented. Dan Jenkins couldn't have dreamed up a better one.
Just coming off the tongue it evokes an image of head-buttin', lip-bleedin', tongue-waggin', nose-snortin', gut-crunchin' foot-bawl country fooball. So what if he has a master's degree? We're talking image here, and you're the genuine article if you're a foot-bawl country man with a two-name name.
Why, just for the heck of it, just to get into the spirit of being a celebrity down here, the Maryland people have decided to play along and also use two-name names this week. It'll be coach Joe Bobby Krivak. Quarterback Scott Dean Zolak. Linebacker Jackie Joe Bradford. Wide receiver Barry Bill Johnson. Now that's a foot-bawl team, sir.