Small potatoes

Balls, pucks and monster trucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  December 28, 2011

There are too many ridiculous college football bowl games to really care about unless your alma mater plays in one. This year, among other pigskin clashes, most saddled with clunky corporate sponsorship names, teams will contest the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and the Charmin Dingleberry Bowl (OK, I made that last one up, but you get the idea). I was clicking past the bowl broadcasts, on my way to watching House Hunters International, when I came across a game that offended my sensibilities as a Mainer. Of course, I am speaking of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. (The Ohio Bobcats defeated Utah State, 24-23.)

The game was played at Boise State's Bronco Stadium, and annually features teams from the Western Athletic Conference and the Mid-American Conference. And while it's easy to dismiss it as just another dumb, meaningless bowl game, its name, mentioned again and again in newscasts and in print, goes a long way towards making Idaho spuds The Only Potatoes That Matter. Obviously, that's bad for the Maine economy. Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, at the press conference announcing the Humanitarian Bowl's transformation into the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, said, "I live here in Idaho, and I think everyone in America wonders why isn't the bowl game played in Idaho called the Potato Bowl?" Muir went on to add, "Our brand is so well known as I travel around the world, as soon as I say 'Idaho,' they say 'potato' in whatever language they're speaking."

I have no doubt that Mr. Muir is telling the truth. When I moved to Memphis, in 1990, I figured that most southerners would know three things about my home state: lobster, Stephen King, and potatoes, but I was only right about the first two. Most Mainers know about our spuds, but most Americans don't, and people can't seek out a product if they don't know it exists. Let's be honest: when American consumers think of potatoes, one state comes to mind — Idaho. This has to change, but won't, as long as Idaho continues to do a superior job of branding.

Statistically, Idaho schmucks us in the potato department. They produce one-third of America's potatoes, and their spud industry provides Idahoans with 39,000 jobs, as opposed to the 6100 potato gigs in Maine (according to the Maine Potato Board). We probably can't compete with them in straight-up potato production, but with a little more effort Maine potatoes could become the cool alternative. You know how the odious hipsters that clog the Portland bars often turn their noses up at Budweiser, as if they were uber-sophisticated Napa Valley sommeliers offered piss-warm Mad Dog 20/20 in a dirty glass, but then turn around and swill PBR like it was the very nectar of the gods? The good people of the Maine Potato Commission should study whatever PBR did to achieve that nifty Jedi Mind Trick (these aren't the droids/potatoes you're looking for), and then apply it to their spuds. It won't be easy or cheap to achieve, but the end result would be great for Maine. I hate to point out a problem without offering a tangible solution, but we need to take this problem one step at a time. Until then, the Gem State can shove its bowl game (and its famous potatoes) right up its ass! We should oppose the tyranny of their potato domination.

Potato eaters of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains to Idaho.

Rick Wormwood can be reached at rumblingp@gmail.com.

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