The whole experience surrounding a bowl game is quite different from your run-of-the-mill non-conference game. And it definitely is an ‘experience’, with all sorts of events in the days leading up to the game, some of which have very little to do with football. Think Big Game Week. Except the teams are playing in a far-removed city, so everyone’s staying in hotels. And the schools have only a passing familiarity with each other. Oh, and there are more high school bands involved. And a balloon parade. And weiner dog races. In short, it’s a little ridiculous.
If you’ve never been to a bowl game, you’re missing out. Every bowl is a little different, and each city has it’s own unique flavor that the bowl organizers try and capture in their series of events. The teams arrive several days before the game, and in between practice, meals, and press conferences, they get paraded around the city to see the sights, leading to such fluff stories as this, this, and this.
Another tradition is the luncheon, of which the Holiday Bowl has two, the first aboard a Navy amphibious assault ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard. Like a press conference, but with much better food and much softer questions. They go something like this:
<Reporter> How do you like <city name> so far?
<Head Coach> Oh, we love it here. The Bowl folks really put on a top-notch event. We’d love to come back here any time.
<R> How does this Bowl experience compare to other bowls?
<HC> Well, we’re real happy to be here. There’s no question that this is a fabulous Bowl, and we’ve got a heck of a matchup facing us on <gameday>.
<R> Tell us your thoughts on the matchup with <other team>.
<HC> They’re a tough matchup. Really well-coached. I’ve watched a lot of film on them, and I can tell you, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got to find a way to limit <opposing star player>. If we can do that, I think we’ve got a chance. It’s really going to come down to execution.
<R> What are you going to do about <opposing star player>?
<HC> Well, the thing about <opposing star player> is, you can’t stop him entirely, you can only hope to contain him. He can do so many things with the ball in his hands, you can’t just focus on one thing. It will definitely be a team effort defending him.
<Reporter> How has <city name> treated you so far?
<Well-Spoken Senior> Well, the hospitality has been great — everyone’s been so friendly and welcoming. The events have been lots of fun, but other than that, Coach has had us holed up in practice or in our hotels, so we haven’t got much of a chance to see the city otherwise.
<R> Are you looking forward to the <bowl game>?
<WSS> Oh, definitely. We’ve been practicing for the last month, so it’ll be nice to get out there and get after it.
<R> How are you preparing for <other team name>?
<WSS> Well, they’re definitely a tough, well-coached football team, but we’re here to show that <our conference> can play football with the best of them. Coach has been working us real hard, so we definitely feel prepared. This will be my last game in college, so all us seniors are really looking forward to going out with a bang. Our coaches have a great game plan, so now we just have to go out and execute.
Later that night, it was a pep-rally back at the team hotel. For fans that haven’t been to a game in a month, it was a great chance to get back in the spirit of things, and nothing does that quite like a couple choruses of ‘Big C’. The UC Rally Committee also helped fans rekindle their Cal Spirit. And by Rally Committee, I mean the guys waving the giant flags. The rest of them were pretty useless, but I do like the giant flags. Then, it’s five of the most uncomfortable minutes of your life (and no, I don’t mean a Willaim Hung concert) as two of the mic men engaged in a hackneyed skit where they pretended to drink beer and extoll the larger than life virtues of Jeff Tedford (think Paul Bunyan, but less believable). The rest of us awkwardly stood around and wished we had real drinks. Mercifully, the skit ended, and the man himself, Jeff Tedford, appeared on stage, along with the whole team, to give a few rah-rah speeches. Now, I didn’t know what DeSean Jackson looked like before he was introduced, but I saw a short, cocky S.O.B. standing in front, and I knew that must be him. God, I’m glad he’s on our team, cause otherwise I’d want to smack him in the face. A couple short speeches later, the team exits to make way for Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, who’s a pretty good speaker herself (not as cocky as DJax, but not as dry as Tedford; also, more hair). "Thanks for coming to San Diego, be sure to spend lots of money, we want to demonstrate that Cal travels well, cheer loud tomorrow, etc." Standard stuff.
The rally done, it’s time for dinner and drinks, and by drinks, I mean a pub crawl up San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. For those who’ve never been, it’s a really hip string of bars, pubs, eateries and other retailers right in downtown. In fact, you’re only a few blocks from PetCo Park, which makes it only a short stumble away following a baseball game. Tonight, Cal fans (and drink specials to welcome them) litter the streets, making it one big public celebration of Cal. Tons o’ fun. If the bars hadn’t closed at 2am, I’m not sure when I would’ve gone home. But I needed my rest, as a serious day of tailgating awaited.
Next : Part II - Bowl Gameday!