College Bowl games for those in Georgia are like the black jack tables for those in Vegas, just not as frequent or as likely to attend a Gamblers Anonymous Meeting.
As soon as lights are untangled and Christmas trees decorated, men race to their over sized televisions to engage with the emphatic experts from ESPN Sports Center. Pencils in one hand and Bowl Game schedule sheets in another, careful selections are made according to the advice and endless drone of the sportscasters born with an abundance of words and questionable taste in sweater vests.
The winners for thirty-three games are chosen, each team circled with hair-on-the -chest confidence, and then presented with bold certainty to the friend acting as temporary bookie for a group of comrades hoping to prove supreme insight and wisdom in the college football arena.
My husband participated in this activity with a circle of friends - all respectable and mostly law abiding – for a small wager of twenty dollars. The group numbered around thirty, with a cash prize of $500 for first place and $150 for second, with the added bonus of yearlong bragging rights that accompany said esteemed accomplishment.
This year, our two boys – ages 8 and 10 – asked my husband if they could take part in the competition.
(As an aside, notice the inappropriate use of the word “competition”. It erroneously implies that my under aged children could possibly be playing in a wrestling tournament or a swim meet or a tennis match, rather than participating in the ILLEGAL GAMBLING ACTIVITIES that could land us all in the pokey.)
For two and a half hours, the testosterone in my home sat mesmerized by the ESPN pre-bowl telethon that even Jerry Lewis would be unable to sustain. Discussions about picks in relation to quarterback match ups and the strategies behind each team’s defensive coordinator, peppered intermittently with tutorials on point spreads, caused the eardrums in my head to rumble in warning that actual implosion could occur at any moment.
Mary Mac, our precocious five year old, wandered in and out of the living room during the many hours spent in pre-bowl purgatory, with little interest in the information being given but beyond indignant as to why she was not included.
After a while, our daughter expressed the unfairness of it all, using phrases like, “You’re hurting my feelings for EVER AND EVER in the whole universe,” and when that didn’t work, “But I LOVE football. It’s my FAVORITE! I love it more than baby dolls, and animals and cheetos and Dora the Explorer and ...”. This commentary, with real potential for an infinite ending, promptly garnered receipt of a college bowl sheet from her worn-down dad.
With a raised eyebrow, and a disapproving facial expression that wordlessly communicated to my husband that families who gamble together do not stay together, I left the room, pondering the competitiveness that had infiltrated our Jesus-loving household.
The tournament deadline approached and John turned in all four College Bowl sheets to his buddy, including the one decorated haphazardly with flowers, a heart, an angel and a cross. (Oh, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.)
And then the games began.
From game one of the college football bowl series to game thirty-two, Mary Mac maintained a position of either first or second place. For eighteen days straight, our daughter held a top position, earning her a chance at the $500, which would be decided by the National Championship game between Alabama and Texas.
The irony of the situation is that out of all of the adult men participating in this “activity”, the championship game would determine if the winnings were to be distributed either to our flower drawing five year old, or her fierce competitor, an eight year old boy "G".
Let that sink in for a moment.
Two children, with an averaged age of 6 ½ years old, both with sets of parents demonstrating little regard for the law, would duke it out for the title and the big payoff.
During the game, G's mom, "L", sent me the following good-natured message:
Dear G (copy Joni),
I would like some UGGs, some new jeans, maybe a scarf...just something to make me feel pretty. Would you like to go out somewhere nice to eat? Or maybe we can start planning a trip to Disney! Whatever you want:) I am so glad I am your mommy. I am sure that Mary Mac is fine with $150. She can buy her mommy something really nice too! Roll Tide!
Alabama , G’s pick, decidedly beat Texas, Mary Mac’s pick, awarding the eight year old first prize of $500 and $150 to our little girl.
I sent the following message to G’s mom:
I think that our mommies should homeschool us next year.....in Vegas.
This was her response:
Dear Mary Mac,
Will you marry me? I think we would make a wonderful team!
To which I replied on Mary Mac’s behalf:
The answer is yes. I think that you are really cute.
Let's confirm this arrangement by sharing our assets now. $325 to you and $325 to me.
Looking forward to our next date at the NCAA Basketball tournament. I'm using my "eenie, meenie, minie, moe" method again when filling out the bracket.
(Don't tell the daddies- they will steal my secret.)
With her $150 winnings, Mary Mac joyfully informed me that she plans to buy an American Doll, visit Disney World and purchase a plane ticket to the North Pole.
I tried to explain to her that she didn’t have enough money for all of these items, that the College Football Bowl games were really not that lucrative, that it would be unreasonable to expect it could somehow support a kindergartner's lifestyle.
That’s why this weekend we are introducing her to Black Jack.