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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend

The Sutton Bowl Trophy

The Sutton Bowl Trophy

th1978 was not a great year for the United States, the economy of the Nation was on a fast track to the bottom of the barrel. The world-view of the United States was that we had seen our glory days and they would never come again, that the rise and influence of power that we used to enjoy was gone. The oil crisis was peaking and the cost of living was on a precipitous rise. In pop culture Space Invaders appeared in arcades and led to a craze for computer video games. Grease had debuted on the big screen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had everyone believing aliens were going to contact us soon.

But none of that had as much impact as my Dad did at the end of the regular college football season.
Back in those forgotten times, my Dad would get up every morning at the unforgiving hour of 4:00am, he always claimed that he liked it, it was his time. The rest of the house was quiet as us four kids and mom did what most humans do at that time of day, sleep. He would walk into the kitchen accompanied by the dog, Jeb Stuart, and use the back door to let the boxer go out into the yard. By the time Jeb would come back to the door, Dad would have his food in the bowl and fresh water. He would then walk out into the driveway and pick up the daily paper. Back in the kitchen the coffee would just be finishing its first brew of the day and the aroma would float through the air, letting the lone person awake know it was time for that first cup of java magic. After a couple of cups of coffee, my Dad would have finished reading his Bible, daily devotionals, writing in his journal, and then he would turn his attention the newspaper and read it from the first page to the last. On that particular morning, as he read the sport section he had an idea that would forever influence the entire Sutton Family.

There in the sports section was a list of all the bowl games, which teams were playing in them, the records of the teams, the times, and which particular network was airing that particular bowl. He sat the paper down and got out a large index card. He pulled out his colored pens and went to work on a chart. Dad charted out every bowl game and wrote the teams that were playing in their home color. Next to each bowl were three columns, one for him, one for my older brother, Rick, and one for me. After he had charted out every game, Dad picked the team that he thought was going to win. Hours later, when the rest of us arose from blessed slumber, he showed the chart to us boys and we got to pick who we thought was going to win each game. Once all the picks had been made and each pick recorded in the color of that team, the chart was placed on the refrigerator door.

Back then there were only three networks and when a bowl game was on, the TV belonged to us boys. It was football time. That year the first bowl game was the Independence Bowl, East Carolina taking on Louisiana Tech, not one that most people remember. As we watched the game we all knew who had picked which team, and, even though we had absolutely no connection with either school, we pulled for our team like they were our favorite of all time. Making no bones about it, we are a competitive bunch. From that moment, and throughout that bowl season, every game was a highly anticipated event. By the time New Year’s Day arrived, the Sutton Bowl Chart participants were at a pitch fever.

The big four, Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar, were all played on New Year’s Day. In the Sugar Bowl, it was Number 1 Penn St vs. Number 2 Alabama. In the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide was ahead, 14-7. Penn St had the ball on Bama’s 8-yard line. Three plays later the ball sat inches from the goal line. Joe Paterno was trying to win Penn State’s first National Championship; he called for tailback Matt Guman to go right up the middle into the heart of the Crimson Tide’s, Bear Bryant’s, defense. Barry Krause, of Alabama, rose from the melee and stopped Guman cold, making a stop that has gone down in history as one of the greatest plays in college football. But the biggest contribution that Krause made that day was to ensure that my Dad won the first Sutton Bowl Chart.

Since 1978 the bowl chart has become an annual event within the Sutton family, a highly contested, knock-down, drag-out, fight. I said we were highly competitive. Years later, my little sister, Jennifer, was starting to believe in this thing called feminism and she thought she could make a difference in this male-dominated world by insisting that the girls in the family be allowed to participate in the Sutton Bowl Chart. This did not go over well with us boys, not well at all. At first we just pushed her idea aside and chalked it up to growing pains. Now, Jennie is not one to let an issue die when she believes she is right…. or wrong, it really doesn’t matter, she doesn’t let an issue go away. This movement was picked up by our other sister, Suzanne, and then to our horror, our Mom! Now it’s three against three, split right along gender lines. The male argument was that the women in the family didn’t give one whoop about college football, much less the bowl games. They just saw how much fun us boys were having every year and they wanted to be a part of it. The women argued that it didn’t matter that they didn’t watch college football, it should be a family event and all should be allowed to participate. When I say this was an issue, I don’t mean we sat around one night and talked this thing out in a calm and reasonable fashion. We’re Suttons, we don’t do anything half-assed. Weeks of yelling and screaming at each other, tempers flaring, death threats might have been issued, boycotts, and sanctions against the others were all considered.

Finally a family council was called. In the Sutton family councils, everyone had to attend. Each person was allowed to debate their view and present any facts or opinions they had on the matter, all were heard. Each member had one vote, and every vote counted. In case of a tie, Dad, as the head of the family, cast the deciding vote. That night the arguments for and against females being allowed were articulated. At the end, a tie-breaking vote was required and the girls walked away victorious. As for us boys, let’s just say it was Y-E-A-R-S before we got over it.

Over time, our family experienced changes like all families do. My brother moved away for college to the University of Mississippi. The Internet wasn’t around then, so my Dad would mail him a copy of the bowl chart and he had to send it back filled out, prior to the first bowl game. As us kids grew up and moved out, the Bowl Chart tradition continued and it kept us connected. When we had rough times, and didn’t like each other every much, the Bowl Chart was still something that we all came together for.

In the 1990, Dad was deployed to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War. I took over the Bowl Chart and kept it alive that year, making the chart, mailing it out, and getting everyone’s vote recorded, and then mailing out the master copy of the chart for everyone to scrutinize. Ever since that episode, I have been the Administrator of the Sutton Bowl Chart.

Up until 2000 the winner of the bowl chart got the chart with the results recorded on it, bragging rights included. I still have some of my winning charts in a scrapbook, but what we really loved was the bragging rights! Then one summer day, while Dad and I were enjoying an evening cigar, the idea of a traveling trophy was discussed. We would have a trophy made, engraved on it would be “THE SUTTON BOWL TROPHY”. Each year the winner of the Bowl Chart would receive the trophy and get to keep it for the entire year. When a new winner was declared the one who had the trophy would have to send it to the new winner. To say this upped the ante would be a vast understatement. Now we had something physical to hold on to, to put on display. Don’t think it doesn’t go on display because it does!

As our families have grown, so has the Bowl Chart. Each family has those that participate and those that don’t. No one is allowed in if they are not part of the family. There is no discrimination according to gender, and my daughter, Jessi, who does keep up with college football, is most grateful for that tie-breaking vote on that fateful night because it is one of her life goals to win that Bowl Trophy and have it displayed in her room for the entire year. She’s come close, as in second, but hasn’t made it over that hump, yet. Maybe this will be her year.

The 2014-15 Bowl Chart has been made and sent out to everyone, via email nowadays, Each person has until Thursday night to get their votes to me so that I can register them before the first bowl game is played. Every year it’s the same, everyone keeps track of the chart, we call each other and discuss every scenario that we can think of and make predictions on who will win. Traditions are what pull people together, and then it keeps people together by giving them a common thread to hang on to. The Sutton College Bowl Tradition is one of those traditions and, in my opinion, It’s one of the greatest.

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