The final episodes of Mad Men unfold over the course of 1970, and most of the main characters seem to be settling into a resolution of their story arc, with one major exception: Don Draper. Last seen waiting at a bus stop in Oklahoma, having given his car away to a young con artist and encouraging him to make the most of his chance at a new life, there's no clear indication of where Don ends up in this Sunday's finale. There are predictions, yes, but even the best-researched of them feel like they're missing something. And that something lies in the world of college football.
In 1969, Jim Carlen led the West Virginia Mountaineers to a 10-1 record and a Peach Bowl win over South Carolina. It was arguably the best season in modern history for WVU, and Carlen used it to snag the head coach job at Texas Tech. His successor was a man in his forties who'd never been a head coach before, a man who could put you at ease with his charm to the point where you'd forget to call his references.
This man goes by Bobby Bowden. In fact? He's Don Draper, a man who's already proven he can slip into a new name, identity, and field of employment with astonishing ease. Let's look at the clues.
1. The alliterative name. Think how easily a monogram with two Ds becomes a monogram with two Bs. No tailor in the world would think twice about making this change once "Bobby" tells him these items were bought secondhand. But Don's new identity also has a tie to his recently-abandoned past: Bobby is, not coincidentally, also the name of his second child.
2. Consider this quote from Bowden explaining why he's afraid to fly on small planes:
"The Good Lord might not want to take me, but He might be after the pilot."
Remind you of anything?
3. You likely remember Don's breakdown during a pitch meeting at the end of Season 6.
It's moving and painful, and you might think Hershey's is just a well-known brand the writers selected at random to build this scene around. Now look at Bobby Bowden, in a Reddit AMA from last year:
Two men, both haunted by long dead chocolate ghosts? Or one man, living under a new name but unable to shake the scars and traumas that formed him as a child?
4. Bowden's first game as head coach was a win over William & Mary by a score of 43-7. 43 + 7 = 50. 1950 is the year that Dick Whitman comes home from the Korean War having adopted the identity of his deceased commanding officer, Don Draper.
5. Consider the logo of the new advertising firm Draper and his partners form in 1963:
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, right? Wrong.
Barry Switzer, Bobby Collins, Doug Dickey, and Red Parker - four of the eleven coaches Bowden faced in the 1976 season, his first at Florida State.
6. Orange is a recurring color theme in Mad Men. Sunkist was the client that convinced the firm to open a Los Angeles office, which led to Megan's move to California, believing Don was close behind. Consider how many orange twists we've seen as Don sips an Old Fashioned.
There's also the orange sherbet Megan hates but eats to spite Don.
Or consider the Mets pennant in Don's office.
What does all this orange mean? Is it an allusion to Agent Orange, signifying that the mistakes of the powerful in the 1960s fell hardest on the young and innocent? Are we meant to think of The Godfather, where oranges portend danger and death? Do we see this color and think of the setting sun, as Don Draper and his kind slowly watch the world they thought they knew slip away from them?
Wrong wrong, and wrong. Fast forward to January 1, 1994, when Bobby Bowden wins his first National Championship by beating Nebraska...in the Orange Bowl.
These are just the obvious hints. We can only imagine how many more clues the writers have hidden throughout the show's run, but AMC deserves a ton of credit for allowing this beautiful, sprawling tale to be told - the tale of where Bobby Bowden really came from.