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Bowl Games 2011: Ranking Each Matchup, With Some Commentary By A Stupid Relative

Spencer Hall ranked every bowl game, and then got sort of punchy, and then kept ranking them anyway. Don't watch bad football. It can kill you.

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1. Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin. Wisconsin and Oregon combine risk-friendly football, mobile quarterbacks, fantastic running backs, a divine setting, and ballsy football in the best bowl game of the year by leagues. Let's just open by being positive and emphasizing that having Montee Ball and LaMichael James on the same field at the same time is a blessing we should all take without asking too many questions. (Also, watching Bielema and Chip Kelly try and out-dick the other is going to be delightful.)

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Oregon has the uniforms and the colors and the things, don't they? What's with that? Hey, what do you think of Tim Tebow? 'Cause I've got some real strong opinions I'd like to share."

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2. Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State. The lower-tier points orgy you prayed would happen came to fruition, and even with Hugh Freeze headed to Ole Miss the settings for this game are simple. Defense, off. DBs reaction time: sloth-like. Running lanes: toll-free until 11 p.m. and with an option for extended open hours if necessary. This game will outscore many Big Ten basketball games with ease, and be the perfect MACtion-tinged football junk food for the penultimate game of the season. (Especially leading up to the brutality of LSU/Alabama.)

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "What's that battleship doing in the background? Oh my god the Mexicans are invading!" [runs to gun cabinet]

More Bowl Coverage: Pick Your College Playoff System | Complete Bowl Schedule
2011 Heisman Finalists: Luck, Griffin III, Richardson, Ball and Mathieu

3. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford. Another mercifully balanced pairing of two teams with better defenses than you might expect, outstanding quarterbacks, and the quirkiest matchup of fans you will ever see at any bowl game ever.

OK State fan: "Howdy."

Stanford fan: "Um, uh---" [runs away at the thought of social contact] [goes and makes money] 

Offense-friendly, interesting coaches, and mascots who may actually get in a swinging, bloody fistfight before it's over. Approved on all fronts without obligatory BCS complaints. 

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Do you think Andrew Luck will be successful in the NFL? I don't think so. He went back to school for another year, and that was like, really dumb." 


4. The BCS TItle Game: Alabama vs. LSU.  Fine, fine. It belongs fairly high on the list for sheer drama, but as every exhausted pundit before has said, it's anticlimax in all directions. If LSU wins, they confirm what everyone already knew in duplicate: that they are both better than Alabama, and the best team in the nation. If they lose, they have split two games with Alabama, and most likely done so in a game of boring Sabanball decided by the dreaded field goal. (It would be remarkable for Alabama to make kicks, but we digress.)

Still, it is two excellent football teams doing their damnedest not to lose a game, and that should be real thrilling. Could you hear me sarcastically blowing a party favor during that sentence? You should have if you didn't.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Saban to the Cowboys in 2012. It's destiny. I'm calling it."


5. Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Nevada. A personal favorite for so many reasons. No one will play defense, there will be three thousand points by halftime, and the announcers will faux-complain about spending Christmas in Hawai'i like they really wanted to be back home. The most special thing about this game on Christmas Eve, though? My holiday tradition of relaxing on the couch, ignoring my family, and relaxing with a gigantic glass full of vodka to watch the trash storms of Honolulu roll into the stadium in the third quarter. This game is my endless loop of A Christmas Story. Let's all shoot our eyes out with defense-free football.


YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Hey get over here, we're opening presents, and Mom's crying because you've just been watching that game, and it's just the Hawai'i bowl and SERIOUSLY MOM IS CRYING AND IT'S YOUR FAULT--"


6. AT&T Cotton Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State. At the end of three quarters, Arkansas will have 400 yards, 20 first downs. Kansas State will have 140 yards and something like eight first downs. K-State will be ahead by three in a 17-14 game, and even if you watched the whole thing you will have no idea how any of this happened. A connoisseur's pick if you like watching old chess masters like Bill Snyder fend off attacks with three pawns, one knight, and a king.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Kansas State never should have fired that fat dude. Peyton Manning would make a pretty good head coach for the Colts, don't you think? Or Senator? I'm just spitballing here."


7. Military Bowl: Toledo vs. Air Force.  The wacky machinations of Air Force's hybrid option attack meet Toledo's vortex of football crazy? Oh hell yes, and twice on December 28th, even if it's in DC in front of a crowd of shivering miserable government pension slaves. First rule: always watch a triple option team in bowl season, because defenses have no idea what they're looking at for at least one half. Two: always opt for hot MACtion, especially when the Rockets are involved.  Toledo has been one of the most entertaining football teams anywhere in 2011, and played the insane back-to-back 120 point games versus Northern Illinois and Western Michigan to open up November and endear defense-free, pulse-pounding Mid-American goodness to us all. They also have Eric Page, who should pay tribute to our brave servicemen on the Air Force team by thanking them for their service after he catches TD passes in double coverage over them. 

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Why does the Redskins stadium look so weird? My homeopath said I have a gluten allergy, and that's why I'm bipolar."


8. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech. I can't be mad at Virginia Tech. They're just exploiting a system that says, "Hey, why don't you take that pillowy-soft schedule, relax for a week in New Orleans, and then have a bunch of hand grenades and gumbo on us." I can't be mad at Michigan, either, since they get to go to a real bowl game for the first time since returning from relegation to D-2 football. (Again, welcome back, Michigan.) Is it going to be watchable? Begrudgingly, yes, since any game with Denard Robinson is by definition watchable, and because VT's Logan Thomas running downfield is like watching a hippo trash a Gymboree, with racks flying everywhere and children screaming. It's not the matchup either team deserved, but it doesn't mean this won't be interesting to watch.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Why is Mike Golic coaching Michigan? Is it like a guest thing? I think you should read The Secret. It really helped me work through my sugar issues and my divorce and stuff."


9. Valero Alamo Bowl: Baylor vs. Washington. Robert Griffin III versus a team with no semblance of a pass defense? Why yes, I do like arson, AKA America's favorite pastime before baseball came around and ruined everything. (Baylor has no defense either, so Chris Polk should get his own fair chance at setting some conflagrations before this is over.)

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "How'd a guy from Baylor win the Heisman? He's not even playing for the national championship!"


10. Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. Georgia.  The wild and mild aesthetics of the double Marks Dantonio and Richt should make for passable viewing, especially because Kirk Cousins is kind of the Aaron Murray of the Big Ten, and Aaron Murray is kind of the Kirk Cousins of the SEC, and both have been annihilated by SEC West teams in the past year without too much effect. The two teams are so similar they might end up being friends, and buying beach property together, and--dammit, I'm blushing now, aren't I? They're going to Busch Gardens together! BFF Bowl 4eva! So excited to watch people making new friends through the wonders of college football.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "That dude looks like Helen Hunt. Twister sucked. Tornadoes aren't that scary, because you can just drive away from one."


11. Insight Bowl: Iowa vs. Oklahoma.  It'll be odd to see if Oklahoma can sew its own head back on before it faces Iowa, a team that's been deadly competitive in bowls under Kirk Ferentz and all-too-happy to watch you destroy yourself after the Iowa offense runs a bit, tries a few of the same five passing plays they've been running for ten years, and then punts you to death with field position. This is contingent on a.) Iowa defending (an iffy proposition) and b.) Oklahoma playing several pay grades below their ability. This being 2011, "playing below your pay grade" has been an area of expertise for Oklahoma.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Hey, let's change the channel. Have you heard the new Drake album? Deep stuff. From the heart."


12. Ticket City Bowl: Penn State vs. Houston: Strictly for morbid curiosity, since Houston's defense is so bad they could plausibly give up 40 to Penn State. This will only happen if the Nittany Lions' offensive staff doesn't just hit 38 points and suffer a mass panic attack from the confusion of so many numbers on the board. Double your morbid curiosity by putting the Houston offense against a nasty Penn State defense, since you know they did so well against the savage Southern Miss attack. (That allowed 34 to lowly UAB.) (UAB, who might not exist in two years.) (But whatever, just watch it.)

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Hey, why are these guys in a bowl game if Joe Paterno is a war criminal or something? Free Tibet."


13. Discover Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia. Okay, this is way down here, but that's because in theory Clemson is a much better team, but that's not counting the theory of Clemsoning, i.e. "where Clemson blows up in its own face and dies under the weight of expectations," but that's played out after the ACC win over VT, but now here we are in this corner with West Virginia where we started. West Virginia can't block, takes entire halves off, and is but a shadow of what they'll be under Dana Holgorsen, but say this for them: they do find ways to win games, and are never out of it as long as Geno Smith's throwing the ball. Buyer beware in either direction. 

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "What's a Dabo? Seriously? You been to Miami? Seems like a stylish place. I never go anywhere unless they have a VIP. It's a rule." 


14. MEINEKE CAR CARE OF TEXAS BOWL: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern. This feels like a blowout in the making, but A&M has a habit of dragging inferior teams into games whether they like it or not. "No thanks, we'd like to go down by two scores." A&M: "Not today, buddy." Ryan Tannehill throws a pick six. "No really, thanks, but we just really want to get back to recruiting and workouts and build for 2012, okay?" A&M: "You're done when we say you're done, junior." An A&M running back fumbles the ball, and the defense allows them to score on the next play on a blown assignment.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Why is the army at this game? What's the acceptable amount to spend on an engagement ring? It's a year's salary, right?"


15. MAACO Bowl Las Vegas: Arizona State vs. Boise State.  I will not say this will be a well-executed game, but it will have its elements. Kellen Moore will be throwing against a wildly aggressive but error prone ASU defense. ASU's wildly aggressive but error-prone offense will be clawing out yardage against a Boise defense that was eviscerated by TCU's passing game. We'll all be reminded how tall Brock Osweiler is, and it will conclude with Dennis Erickson's failed moped robbery of the Bellagio. Lots of glorious misfiring all over the place, really, and a reminder that sometimes spectacle can win out in your heart over execution.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Why isn't Boise playing in a bigger bowl game? Hey, did you borrow my Power Bandz?"


16. R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: San Diego State vs. University of Louisana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns are playing, and that should be enough for you, but someone named "Blaine Gautier" throwing passes in the Superdome should also sell you because you know he has "Saints third-string quarterback" written all over him. He'll back up Drew Brees for seven years, have two or three unspectacular emergency starts, and then retire comfortably to a radio gig he can do while three drinks deep and rolling. He may or may not also have his own sausage line. Ronnie Hillman is also playing in this game, and is third in the nation in rushing, something else you might want to watch for free before he starts making actual money in the NFL.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Who is Ronnie HIllman? Man, he might go to the pros! Big Bang Theory is hilarious!"


17. Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Virginia vs. Auburn. Very exciting for Cavaliers fans, who not only get to attend a very well-run bowl game, but also get the opportunity to have exciting exchanges like this with Auburn fans all week.

Virginia fan: "Thomas Jefferson founded our school."

Auburn fan: "Well, Trace Adkins is on our faculty."

Virginia fan: "Who is that?" 

Auburn: "Nevermind, and go to hell."

They'll probably lose, but shut-ins take delight in a potentially competitive football game being broadcast on New Year's Eve. (Watch in your bedroom! Someone might knock at the door, and then what'll you do?)

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Wait, there's just a plain Virginia, and they play football? Still wanna beat up Kanye for what he did to T-Swift, man."


18. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl: Texas vs. Cal. Let's stay positive. Zach Maynard did play much better quarterback down the stretch for Cal this year. Texas did finish strong on the play of their defense and special teams. This game has the real potential to be entertaining. A purely accidental kind of entertaining, mind you, especially if Case McCoy is involved, but entertaining like watching short-legged dogs trying to climb stairs. (They're so widdle! And twying so haawwd!)

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Hey, did you hear Mack Brown is going to be fired any minute now, guys?"


19. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest.  The funniest part of this game is watching Jim Grobe, Wake Forest's head coach and the definition of "nondescript white guy," walk through the parking lot without anyone realizing who he is. Dan Mullen will be easy to spot, since he is the one not interviewing for the Penn State job. Wake Forest is a very dangerous team in this spot, and that sentence is right even though it feels so very wrong here. Like a lot of bowls in the Music City tier of games, it ould be a very good game of complimentary mistakes by both teams.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Look, bro! It's Fushigi!" [/drops ball clumsily on ground] "Awww, man."


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20. Hyundai Sun Bowl: Utah vs. Georgia Tech.  Utah's dismal offense is bad enough for us to lean Georgia Tech here, but Paul Johnson leading anyone into the wastelands of El Paso in a struggle for survival makes sense all by itself. Utah's run defense is very good, though, so with any luck we'll be treated to a replay of The Most Exciting Bowl Game Ever Played, the 3-0 Pitt/Oregon State classic from 2008. Hope the wind's blowing 40 mph sideways! 

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Why are you watching this?" You: "I...I don't even know anymore."


21. ADVOCARE100 INDEPENDENCE BOWL: Mizzou vs. North Carolina. The pairing seems like the height of "MEHxcellence," but do consider the possible improvement in Mizzou QB James Franklin's game with all those extra practices (tantalizing!) and the ever-present and sexy threat of the aging stadium collapsing during the game. (Terrifying! And all too real, unfortunately!) 

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Hey, how's Butch Davis doing at North Carolina?"


22. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Utah State. Wal-Mart value at Big Lots prices! That sounds worse than we meant it to, but any bowl game that already features PUNTER DRAMA and the nation's most carb-heavy sponsor has to be considered a steal, value-wise.

"Idaho?? Who the (bleep) wants to play there in December??" Ohio punter Paul Hershey posted on his Twitter account (@PHershey) Sunday afternoon.

He later clarified his remarks, tweeting "Punters don’t like the cold. That’s all I’m sayin." His account was deleted as of Sunday evening.

By they way, the Ohio punter's old account is very close to this woman's, who clearly embraced Twitter and did not like the way its loving embrace made her feel. Embrace passion, Pamela Hershey of Knoxville, TN, and know love.

Oh and both teams happen to be very similar, the setting has been the site of some genuinely weird and wonderful bowl games, and like many early bowl games involving unheralded teams from microconferences, it will be better than you anticipate. (Especially if they get a blinding snowstorm in the 3rd quarter, something which has happened in this game before. Blinding snowstorms make everything better.)

YOUR STUPID NON-FOOTBALL WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Blue turf? I can't stand watching it, because grass isn't blue! This game is stupid, guys."


23. Gator Bowl: Ohio State vs. Florida. If you are old enough to remember Bumfights, then you know what a hole the prohibition and elimination of this challenging and compelling video series was for our culture. Fortunately, the Gator Bowl is staging a one day revival of Bumfights featuring two teams with chronic anemia, shuffling coaching staffs wondering where their next check might be coming from, and Charlie Weis.

[voice from off camera: "DID YOU SAY CHARLIE WEIS?"]



Ohio State will win, but like a lot of one-night stands in Jacksonville, this ends with everyone leaving with a burning sensation and a heart full of regrets. Watch at your own risk.

YOUR STUPID NON-FOOTBALL WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "I bet Gator fans are real mad at Urban Liar.  Those Activia ads, man. What's with those?"


24. Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl: BYU vs. Tulsa.  The battle of two perfectly good mid-majors does contain one known: Jake Heaps, the once and future king of the BYU program, is transferring, so junior Riley Nelson will be your starter for BYU. Tulsa's just going to do what they always do: roll out G.J. Kinne and see if five hundred yards of offense follow him. (Spoiler: they will!) Not bad viewing at all, and that's not damning with faint praise. A legitimately unbad matchup here.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "I bet Mitt Romney's totally watching this. Did you know they have bottle service at some New York sports bars now? So awesome."


25. Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State vs. Notre Dame.   The two offenses stand at a revolving door. "After you," says the FSU offense, leaning forward and catching its head in the door. "Here, let me help you," the Notre Dame offense says, freeing FSU's head but getting its tie caught in a subway grate. "No sir, permit me to assist you," the FSU offense says as it walks into the street and it hit by a truck. "Egads," says the Notre Dame offense as its suspenders droop and catch the top of an onrushing express train below. Both teams specialize in the latest in offensive implosion techonology, so you'll want to watch. For science's sake, you know.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Notre Dame and FSU? [sits down to watch excitedly]"


26. Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Temple vs. Wyoming. No, don't change it hahaha you won't. The first bowl game of the season is a somewhat respectable matchup between a defensive-minded, run-heavy Temple team and a balanced Wyoming team with no ability to stop the run. Temple likes to run. This might not be a good game after all, but Brett Smith, Wyoming's quarterback, is fun enough to merit watching for a bit before the pure sex of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl kicks in at 5:30 p.m.



27. Capital One Bowl: South Carolina vs. Nebraska. The Bowl Protection Act of 2011 specifies that all turnovers not contained in the Champs Sports Bowl shall be rolled over into the Capital One Bowl. This will be something like 38 fumbles and 17 picks, but by law they'll have to fit them in somehow. What's in your wallet? It's four hours of Taylor Martinez's throwing motion, and you now have incurable vertigo. We're sorry, there is no cure.



28. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt.  Two defense-first teams (yes, Cincy's been winning games with defense, inconceivably enough) meeting after a month-long layoff? CAN YOU SAY FIELD GOALS? We can.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Vandy's in a bowl game, huh? That school's too expensive. I think I'm going to get an online degree. Seems worth it."


29. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers vs. Iowa State. Those aren't empty seats: they're Rutgers fans, who are by nature invisible once they enter New York City. But they're there, so nevermind if you think Iowa State running roughshod over the Scarlet Knights without witnesses. You'll be there, and I'll be there, and so will the silent legions of television-watching invisible people.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "I have no idea why Rutgers isn't huge in New York, man. These Skechers shape-ups are really working my abs, by the way."


30. BBVA Compass Bowl: Pitt vs. SMU. Have you ever wanted to see 10 interceptions between two teams in one game? YOUR DREAMS HAVE COME TRUE.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "BBVA? I have no idea what that means on Craigslist, but it sounds like some naked fat people stuff. No fat chicks. That's my rule."


31. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech is likely going to die, die, and die in this game, but look at the positives: pictures of sea lions chilling on the beach will abound, and Gary Patterson on the sideline will keep fighting the inspiring three-way war between his belt, pants, and shirt that he has bravely overcome to be a head coach. It's a body thing, and no amount of sturdily crafted Dockers can help him.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "The Chargers' new uniforms SUCK, dude. You want a Dr. Pepper 10, bro? [flexes]"


32. Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl: Marshall vs. Florida international. The only Florida bowl dumb enough to choose to play under a dome deserves what it gets, and what it gets is an anemic Marshall team at 6-6 versus an 8-4 FIU team that beat UCF and Louisville earlier this season. When this gets boring and lopsided, and it will, just watch T.Y. Hilton, the best kick returner in the nation, and FIU's surprisingly well-stocked defensive line as they slowly force Marshall's offense into desperate straits. (Warning: Jim Leavitt may be in the stands, and may want to defend his Trophy at all costs. You have been warned.)

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "That coach looks nothing like Val Kilmer OR Matthew McConaughey. What's the deal with Twitter?"


33. Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Purdue. They might show the RoboCop statue, and Western Michigan might bring this year's infection MAC chaos to the former Motor City Bowl. But let's not sell short the bowl experience. You can buy ten acres of urban farmland while attending the bowl for like seventy bucks, and that's why Detroit is the Hipster Paris of tomorrow.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Detroit murder death The Crow drugs death unemployment Robocop joke something about I'll buy that for a dollar something. That Eminem song was cool, though."


34. Belk Bowl: NC State vs. Louisville. It is only appropriate that a bowl game involving Tom O'Brien would make me think of shopping for sensible, unfashionable, and affordable pants. It would also be appropriate if the stadium would just pipe inoffensive pop music through the PA at all times during this game for the department store feel, since both teams have been literally inoffensive (93rd in total offense for NC State, 103rd for Louisville) and hard to pay attention to for long stretches of time without drifting away to something else. Teddy Bridgewater will make something up and win this game. The rest will be bland affordable slacks for the eyes.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "These look like the same team." (Worst part: he's right.)


35. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Illinois vs. UCLA. Two headless teams fighting for a single dessicated green bean on the sad floor of a baseball stadium. Don't watch this. You will literally die of sorrow.

YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: "Ha, you watched this game and died of the sorrow."