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Alma Matters

by Kenneth B. Lourie

Every Jan. 1, my wife, Dina, and I attend a New Year’s Day football Bowl party at the home of one of her semi-regular customer’s homes in Alexandria. As you might expect at an all-day football-watching party, there is ample food and drink and usually some kind of betting - most winners, most points, etc. - as well, which includes all of the games played that day. The party typically begins sometime after the first Bowl has begun - 11-ish - and ends around 7 p.m., after the majority of the games have been completed.

In addition to the provisions Harry so generously provides, there are also two television sets strategically positioned - for maximum viewing pleasure - on both sides of the living room, set up in front of an informal, festival-seating-type array of couches, easy chairs, folding chairs, cushions, floor space and standing-room-only-type back-row viewing. And throughout the day people are constantly up and down going for food, beverage and bathroom relief, so the mix of who’s sitting where, when, is continually shifting. As Dina says, “Move your meat, lose your seat.”

What makes this annual event unique, however, is that the attendees - mostly Harry’s fellow retired Naval officers from their 20 to 30 years together in the service - are graduates of many of the colleges and universities playing that day. As such, these partygoers are not merely friends and college football fans; they are also dedicated alumni. They are walking the walk, showing their respective school’s colors - wearing logo’d hats, jerseys, sweaters and sweat shirts - and talking the talk - detailing stories, team stats, player bios as well as future draft status and years of eligibility remaining of key players. It’s almost like having the games’ actual broadcasters and color commentators in-house for insights and explanations.

Some of the schools represented by these retired Naval officers - and to a lesser degree, the alma maters of their spouses and children - are, for the most part, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, U.VA., Penn State, Tennessee, Clemson, the University of North Carolina, Syracuse, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan and last, but certainly not least, Harry’s alma mater, the Golden Domers, the Fighting Irish from Notre Dame. (And it goes without saying that if the Naval Academy ever played on New Year’s Day, it would be well-supported by this group.) So there are many extremely interested and educated individuals rooting for and against one another, as their teams battle for respective Bowl supremacy. It never gets ugly but...

And over the course of the day, there is as much heartbreak as there is jubilation as the victors spoil the losers’ dreams. Granted, the losses are disappointing, but many of Harry’s guests fought in the Vietnam War and football is, after all, only a game so... there’s always next year.

Besides, any school’s football team making it to a New Year’s Day Bowl game - Bowl Championship Series or otherwise - is a major accomplishment. Moreover, for many schools and their fans - both young and old - watching their teams play on Jan. 1 is a crowning achievement to a season well-played, and one on which any program cannot only build, but can solidify its foundation for future athletic success as it continues to compete for a national championship.

For the invitees, as much as watching football is traditional on New Year’s Day, so too does it appear that reminiscing with friends, family and business associates, and remembering the events of the past that drew them all together, are equally important. And whether your team wins or loses, when Harry queues up your college’s fight song - many of which are recorded on a “Best of...” CD, Harry has, you are transported, and all seems right with the world.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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