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Tucson Weekly Insight.Tom

Some Thoughts On The Bowl Mix.

By Tom Danehy

JANUARY 4, 1999:  THERE WAS A guy at the Insight.com Bowl the other night who had driven three days straight from West Virginia to get to Tucson. Poor guy's butt was flatter than Jim Kolbe's political future.

Alas, he appeared to have come alone, because Arizona Stadium was shockingly empty just before game time last Saturday. The initially announced crowd of 33,888 would have been the smallest ever. It was later revised to 36,147, making it only the second smallest ever.

And that's a shame, because it was a great game. Missouri jumped all over West Virginia in the first half, but then the Mountaineers staged a furious rally that fell just short. This game had great plays, strong running, good passing and an outcome which wasn't certain until the last minute of the game.

So where were you guys? Standing in line at the mall to return the tie Aunt Mabel got you? You could've done that on Sunday.

My son and I went to the game as fans, not so I could write about it. But the turnout left me puzzled and disappointed.

I'll admit I was openly skeptical about the Copper Bowl when it started up a decade ago. Who needs more bowl games?

I've heard all the stuff about pumping $10 million into the local economy, and I've been skeptical about that, too. Who comes up with this number, and how does one arrive at such a figure? For that matter, is $10 million a lot or just a drop in the bucket?

All that doesn't matter, really. I've come to accept the local bowl game for what it is, a noble effort by a lot of good, hard-working people. If it went away, most Tucsonans wouldn't miss it. But the masses aren't always right. Just ask Rush Limbaugh.

This year's version of the old Copper Bowl has taught us some real painful truths. Among them:

• It probably doesn't matter all that much how good the match-up is. Missouri and West Virginia were both very good teams. On paper (including this one), it looked like the best match-up in the 10-year history of the bowl. And yet people stayed away in droves.

Last year's New Mexico-Arizona game, by comparison, was a dream match-up in Tucson bowl game terms, but a yawn to most fans around the country. It drew over 50,000 fans to the stadium.

It looks like bowl organizers are going to have to choose between game attendance and TV ratings. With the way things are now, it's highly unlikely they'll be able to get both.

• Bowl organizers are going to have to try to find a way to break TV's ability to wag that dog. Playing the game the day after Christmas is like death. No matter how loyal fans are, few are going to want to spend Christmas 2,500 miles from home just so they can attend a football game the next day.

Having the game on the 28th, 29th or 30th would make all the difference in the world. People could spend Christmas at home, fly out and still spend most of a week in Tucson, see the game, and maybe even stay for New Year's. Let ESPN put the Music City or Motor City or Some Other City Bowl game right after Christmas.

A little luck wouldn't hurt. Just imagine if Oregon State would have been able to eke out just one more win to qualify for its first bowl game since the 1960s. Arizona Stadium would've been full of orange-clad crazies. And we local football fans, such as myself, would've been screaming our lungs out for our once-hapless Pac-10 brethren.

Heck, even if Arizona State had sucked one fewer game this season and had managed a winning season, the stadium would have been nearly full. Of course, those same local fans would would've cheered for Oregon State, would then show up to root against ASU. Just imagine being able to watch ASU lose twice in one season at Arizona Stadium.

And speaking of luck, don't forget that the now-mighty Fiesta Bowl is the product of the longest lucky streak of all time (if you discount Wayne Newton's career). The game was started by a bunch of disgruntled ASU fans just so the Sun Devils would have a place to play in December. It then lucked into some good TV match-ups on Christmas Day back in the '70s.

Flushed with success, the organizers moved it to New Year's Day to challenge the Big Boys. Then it lucked into Deep (Blue) Pockets IBM, which was looking to throw away tons of money to advertise its OS/2 system. (That was supposed to be the competition for Windows. Yeah, right.)

Now, having kicked the Cotton Bowl to the curb, the Fiesta is one of the Big Four. It just doesn't seem right.

And coming up for your bowl-watching pleasure (or not):

The Rose Bowl (UCLA vs. Wisconsin, January 1): Fortunately for us, this comes on at the perfect time of day to take the Christmas lights down off the house and find a suitable empty lot in which to dispose of the Christmas tree.

No one will want to watch this game. Wisconsin has been called the "worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl," while UCLA tricked everybody into believing they were a team of destiny by winning one close call after another, only to be exposed as a fraud by a very mediocre Miami team.

These two teams deserve each other, while longtime fans of great Rose Bowl match-ups deserve much better.

The Gator Bowl (Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech, January 1): Cool. Another chance to watch the Irish get beat up.

The Fiesta Bowl (Tennessee vs. Florida State, Monday night, January 4): Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, upon arriving in Tempe for the "national championship" game, said, "I think the fans have finally bought into the BCS (rankings) and they realize that the two best teams are meeting in the Fiesta Bowl."

Dude, I wouldn't buy into the BCS if you gave me the bankroll, told me I could spend as little as I wanted, and then could pocket the rest.

The Fiesta Bowl features two teams who would get their heads kicked in by the Arizona Wildcats. Explain to me how that makes this the national championship game.

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