Are you ready for bowl season, starting at 2 p.m. Eastern on Saturday when you can watch the Gildan New Mexico Bowl match up between New Mexico and UTSA (that would be University of Texas-San Antonio)?
That match-up was created because the bowl has an agreement to pair a Conference USA team (UTSA) vs. a Mountain West team (New Mexico).
The bowls had nothing to do with the match up–that was decided by the conferences and ESPN, who slot and select the match ups. The teams had nothing to do with it. They qualified for a bowl game and were told where they were going to play.
Gildan (in case you were wondering) is a Canadian manufacturer of branded clothing and has sponsored the game since 2006. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl is New Mexico’s only nationally televised sporting event.
And that, for most of you I’m sure, is more than you want to know about this game, the first of 40 bowl games that will be part of the holiday diet for college football fans.
Forty, of course, is TOO many bowl games between teams who do not deserve to be rewarded for mediocre play. UTSA staggered into the post season with a 6-6 record. New Mexico did earn its way in with 8 wins and was rewarded with that by playing in a bowl game in its home stadium for the third time in the Gilden Bowl’s short history.
But there was once a time when bowl games, both big and small, meant something, when the bowls and the teams had an actual say in where they were going. And I was part of, not only watching that process, but actually played a part in it.
In the fall of 1983 I was the national college football writer for the Dallas Morning News. At the time, there were only 16 bowl games and more than enough bowl eligible teams.
Bowl reps, wearing brightly colored blazers were part of the scenery during the regular college football season. They were on recruiting trips, trying to entice teams to come to their games.
I can still remember the frenzy during the 1984 season when a Boston College team led by soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Doug Flutie was courted by the Sugar and Cotton Bowl, represented by two legendary bowl reps, Jim “Hoss”Brock of the Cotton Bowl and Mickey Holmes of the Sugar Bowl.
It all came down to a weekend in November when BC was hosting Syracuse in a game at the old Foxboro Stadium. Both Brock and Holmes made the trip to close a deal with Eagles’ athletic director Bill Flynn.
Each man presented a sales pitch. Brock talked about the legend of the Cotton Bowl and Texas and Sammy Baugh and Doak Walker and the football culture of Texas.
Holmes talked about New Orleans and how the game would culminate a great trip for the fans against the SEC champion.
Brock knew he couldn’t compete with New Orleans, but had a ready answer when Flynn asked him what the Cotton Bowl could do for pre-game entertainment for the BC fans.
“Hoss,” said Brock, who called everyone Hoss because it was easier than remembering the names of all the people he met in his travels, “we’ll give them both worlds. We will take them to New Orleans for a day and night and then bring them back to Dallas for the game.”
That never happened, of course, but BC did sign the deal to go to Dallas after the Eagles beat Syracuse in Foxboro before a sellout crowd of 60,000 (Yes, those were the days BC fans).
But my favorite story happened a year earlier. The Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas had received a commitment from SMU and was looking for an opponent–there was very little slotting of conference teams to bowl games in 1983.
Since SMU was from Dallas and I was working at the DMN, I had gotten to know Sun Bowl executive director Tom Starr fairly well.
I also knew Alabama coach Ray Perkins from my days as a reporter in New Jersey covering the New York Football Giants” as die hard Giant fans still grieving from the baseball Giants departure for California called them.
Perkins had the impossible job of following legendary Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and the Tide had slid to secondary bowl status in Perkins’ first year as the Alabama coach.
Alabama had offers, but at that point in early November, had not yet committed to anyone. So I called Perkins with a simple question “”Where you playing your bowl game?””
“Still thinking about it,” said Perkins. “You got any ideas?””
I did, telling him that the Sun Bowl was looking for a team. Perkins liked the idea, but wanted to know who the opponent was. I told him it was SMU, a team that Perkins knew Alabama could beat since SMU was in its first post season following a national championship run with a team led by the “Pony Express,” a backfield with Eric Dickerson and Craig James as the primary running backs.
“SMU,”’ said Perkins. “We could do that.”
“”Let me see what I can do,” I said. “I will call you back.”
I immediately called the Sun Bowl and talked to Tom Starr. “I got a team for you” I told Starr. “”Alabama”
There was silence and then a quiet, “Are you serious?””
Yes, I was. And with that a few more phone calls were made and the match up was done, setting up a game on Christmas Eve 1983 in which Alabama beat SMU 28-7.
In the words of Annie Savoy of Bull Durham fame, “You can look it up”.