Tapped out in Pasadena
Loose horse! If you’ve ever been around a racetrack’s backstretch, those two words get everyone’s immediate attention. The barn-smart likes of trainers, walkers, and farriers take immediate heed, knowing that a runaway horse can be a winning ticket to a lost life.
None of that will be of concern tomorrow morning in Pasadena, because the iconic Clydesdales, Anheuser-Busch’s majestic draught horses, were quietly pulled from the Rose Parade back in May. Those gentle giants, as synonymous with A-B’s beer as the logo on its brown long-necked bottles, have been set loose from parade duty for the first time since their debut on that route in 1953. The horses are officially hors de combat.
What next, Rocky and Bullwinkle are told to do something else on Thanksgiving than float over the streets of Manhattan?
America’s behemoth brewery decided to spend its money elsewhere. A late November media release by the company, which three years ago was purchased by worldwide conglomerate InBev, noted that it preferred to invest “in other types of sponsorships and events that reach a higher concentration of beer drinkers . . . and where [we] can more directly discuss the Budweiser brand.’’
Fair enough. Who better than a grizzled print journalist to understand that times change and that yesterday’s big horse in the barn is today’s unloved claimer headed to the glue factory? Given that the parade gets rolling at 8 a.m. in California, any beer drinkers interested in the annual New Year’s Day extravaganza could be in the initial stages of hangover recovery. That’s if California actually has any beer drinkers, what with all that local-grown chardonnay and Pinot Grigio within easy reach.
Maybe beer and football no longer go together like horse-and-carriage, anyway. Sure seemed that way last Saturday during the Patriots-Dolphins telecast, which like tomorrow’s parade in Pasadena was a total Clydesdale-free zone during the 12:30-4:30 p.m. broadcast window. A total of 107 commercials aired in that stretch, and only four of the spots hyped hops. The tally: two Bud Lights, one Corona, and one Victoria, barely enough to make a bartender put out the tip jar.
Now, I don’t often watch beer ads, but when I do, well . . . I expect to see far more than four of them during an NFL game. I would have guessed some 20-30 ads would be about beer, half reminding me that Bud is the King of Beers. Not so. Veteran hops watchers were left crying in their . . . Victorias?! And again, not a single Clydesdale trotted across the screen. They’ve shot the horses, haven’t they?
Today’s Patriots-Bills telecast is likely to bring the same kind of ad lineup. Of those 107 commercials last Saturday, roughly one-third (33) pushed cars and trucks. The next biggest sector was phones/phone services (15). Food filled the screen with eight spots, tied with insurance. Those four groups accounted for 64 spots, and then beer was down at the bottom of the keg with the likes of Radio Shack, Home Depot, Sylvania SilverStar headlights, and Spiriva for COPD.
We drive a lot. We talk a ton. We eat and eat and eat. We insure (maybe because we drive, talk, and eat at the same time?). And now and then, Victoria, we have a brewski. So say the ads.
A-B’s affiliation with the Rose Parade dates to the years leading up to World War I. The brewery didn’t stable Clydesdales until 1933, bringing them aboard as a corporate symbol/mascot just as Prohibition ended. Twenty years later, Jan. 1, 1953, the gentle-giant Scottish horses made their debut in the Pasadena parade, hauling an Anheuser-Busch float, much as they would for decades to come. Until now.
Back when the St. Louis-based brewery owned the city’s beloved baseball Cardinals, team members sometimes appeared on the Budweiser float on New Year’s Day, sort of a spring training tease. More than a few Red Sox fans in the viewing audience shielded their eyes on Jan. 1, 1968, when Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst and the great Lou Brock were aboard the Spirit of St. Louis float, less than 90 days after beating the Sox at Fenway Park in Game 7 of the World Series.
Later that same day, Southern Cal rubbed out Indiana, 14-3, in the Rose Bowl, and Trojan ballcarrier Orenthal James Simpson was named MVP. Like the Clydesdales, Simpson today will not be anywhere near the Pasadena parade route, unless he is watching from the family room at his publicly funded boys club.
As lost rituals go, the Clydesdales running loose from tomorrow’s parade isn’t monumental. The parade itself, which will air locally beginning at 11 a.m. on ABC, NBC, and the Hallmark Channel, no doubt will be splendid. The floats will be gorgeous, festooned, with mountainous heaps of roses and sundry beauty queens.
Those of you fortunate enough to have a high-tech sound system will be treated to an enhanced sense of the marching band music, which is really the best part of all parades, be they in Pasadena, Peoria, or Peabody.
Take a moment, however, to note the Clydesdales’ absence. Some of our rituals have become vanishing breeds.
Back in the era when Schoendienst and Brock were aboard the big Bud float, guided proudly along the route by the august Clydes, the World Series was always played in the light of day. Public schools across the land often piped the radio broadcasts of those games through the school’s PA system as students dashed to buses to take them home or lingered for after-school sports.
For many reasons, we are no longer really a baseball nation, in part because the Series is now almost exclusively played at night, when schoolhouses are dark, playing fields empty, our evening TV choices so diverse, prolific, and sometimes bizarre.
Whatever your beverage of choice, lift one high tomorrow to the great big horses who for decades helped make the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl (Wisconsin vs. Oregon, 5 p.m. kickoff) a unique part of our sports tableau.
Budweiser made such a bad call here, first by setting loose the Clydesdales from their Pasadena showcase, then by failing to recognize the grand opportunity it would have been for all of Bud’s horses at least to make a goodbye gallop. Maybe that’s nostalgia talking, but such is the language of sports.
Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com.