WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The nighttime has been the right time for the Orange Bowl football game for close to 50 years, all the way back to Joe Namath's closing performance as an Alabama senior on New Year's Day 1965.
Of all the other traditions that have tumbled through the years, including the demolition of the classic old stadium where South Florida's showcase holiday event was born, there always was the promise of prime-time placement on the television schedule for the first major college bowl game ever played at night.
You remember the ancient rhythm of it all, with the Rose Bowl serving up a scenic, postcard setting in the late afternoon of New Year's Day and then the adrenalin-charged Orange Bowl stepping up around 8:30 p.m. ET to really bring home the mail.
Even in recent years, with the major bowls given exclusive, stand-alone dates on which to play throughout the opening week of January, Miami's big event maintained its own kind of midnight magic.
The new 12-year partnership contract between the Orange Bowl and the Atlantic Coast Conference replaces that with the starker reality of a 1 p.m. kickoff.
Beginning with the game of Jan. 1, 2015, we're talking about tailgating in the Sun Life Stadium parking lot at 10:30 in the morning.
That tastes like appetizers and not the rich and slightly decadent dessert of all those great Orange Bowls, the ones that played out with the lights blazing and with fans all over America switching back and forth to match the minute-by-minute excitement of this game against the simultaneously staged Sugar Bowl.
''The excitement really built up on that day," said Cardinal Newman High School football coach Steve Walsh, who quarterbacked Miami in a couple of Orange Bowls, including a 20-14 win over top-ranked Oklahoma on New Year's Night 1988 that clinched a national title for the Hurricanes.
''They kept us a little busy, but we still got to watch three or four games, and then we watched a little bit of the Rose Bowl and then it was time for kickoff. You knew you were going to be one of the last games of the day and that really got you ready to play."
Waiting on the Orange Bowl got viewers in 50 states primed for a total entertainment package, too. The Orange Bowl halftime show was famous for its excess, rolling out huge concert stages and hundreds of dancers and then keeping both teams cooped up in their locker rooms while headline performers ran through a medley of its greatest hits under the fog of fireworks smoke and the flash of laser lights.
Summoning up a spectacle like that isn't so easy in broad daylight.
For the time being, it's BCS life as usual, and even better, for Miami. The Orange Bowl ramps up to the ultimate "double-hosting" spotlight this January, with its regular night game on New Year's Night and the BCS Championship Game following right behind at Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 7.
Jump ahead a few years, though, to the start of the four-team playoff system, because that's where this 1 p.m. kickoff business comes in.
The SEC and the Big 12 beat everybody to the punch in May with an agreement on their jointly owned Champions Bowl to be played on New Year's Night. Once those two power conferences laid claim to a prime-time position, and once the Rose Bowl announced the 12-year extension of its ESPN deal with a 5 p.m. ET kickoff written right in, the Orange Bowl was left with just a few options.
First, the Orange Bowl could accept the early afternoon slot and get started on a television deal. Second, the committee could have attempted to go head-to-head with one of those other major games, an iffy proposition with the ACC, its partner conference since 2006, on a down cycle. Third came the alternative of switching to New Year's Eve, which might have pushed the Orange Bowl into a second tier of influence, for it's possible that that's where warmup games like the Capital One Bowl and the Outback Bowl will be pushed.
Will the Orange Bowl kickoff stay at 1 p.m. in the years when one of the national semifinals rotates around to Sun Life Stadium? Stay tuned for whatever TV has to say about the second. ESPN could buy up everything, as usual, and sell the schedule however the network wants.
Oh, and there's always the possibility that the Orange Bowl people could become major players in upcoming negotiations to stage the new national championship final at some point, or at several points, between the end of the 2014 season and the end of the four-team playoff agreement in 2025.
''We still plan on pursuing national championship games," said Larry Wahl, the Orange Bowl's vice president of communications. "The best part is we get to reclaim Jan. 1 as the date for our game, which I think is the preferred date for any college bowl game.1 comment on this story
''To be honest, whereas prime time is what everybody looks for in terms of television, the 1 o'clock spot is probably better for South Florida residents and all those going to the games. It gives the opportunity to get home at a reasonable hour, and it's a more optimal spot for families and kids to attend."
Remove that badge of honor, though, for the grade-schooler who could boast that he stayed up to watch the end of the Orange Bowl. Miami's college classic has peeled away another layer of what made it a signature event, and customers will have to decide if the ticket is losing a bit of its special, after-hours appeal, too.
Dave George writes for The Palm Beach Post. Email: dave(underscore)george(at)pbpost.com.
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