What a week! I love this time of year. Between College and Pro football, there’s so much excitement. My girls know that Saturdays and Sundays (and any other day there’s a game on), the TV is mine. The NFL teams are all jockeying for position – whether it be for the playoffs or draft picks – it’s always interesting. Unfortunately, for the Bills, it always seems as if it’s about evaluating talent for next year. In college, due to the quantity of Bowl games, the match-ups aren’t always perfect. With the struggle between which fan base travels better and conference tie-ins, they often match little know teams, short on exposure, but big on talent, against the Goliaths that own the media coverage and recruiting game. This usually makes for crappy match-ups on paper. But many times, the Davids come out on top – think Boise State vs Oklahoma. Here in the valley, we have the pleasure of hosting two of the better post-season games every year – the aptly named Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl and recently named Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. These bowls are usually played within a couple of days of each other with the lesser BWW Bowl taking place before the New Year and the Fiesta on or after January 1. This year, we had the added bonus of the Cardinals hosting San Fran in between the two bowls, with the home team potentially advancing to the Playoffs with a win and a New Orleans loss. The week started with the BWW Bowl in Tempe. To me, the atmosphere in Tempe is so much better than that of Glendale. Granted, UofP Stadium is much nicer with modern creature features, but the contrasts go well beyond that.
Tempe is traditional college campus football. Plenty of tailgating spread out in different nooks and crannies with bars and restaurants just steps from the stadium. My “season tickets” for this game are in the first row of he upper deck, on the 40 yard line and offer a fantastic vantage point. At $50 per ticket to witness a relatively solid matchup every year, this is a great entertainment value. The BWW Bowl has an agreement with the Big 12 and the Big 10. Ironically, the Big 12 has ten teams and the Big 10 has twelve teams. Go figure. Only in college. This year brought Kansas State (Big12 #5) vs Michigan (Big10 #8) on Saturday night. Had PSU been eligible for post-season play, we would have been watching them, but that’s another story for another time. Entering the stadium, we commented that it was about 20-1 Michigan fans and that K State looked to be travelling light. That changed when we entered the stadium. The K State fans were all in their seats already while Michigan was still out partying in the somewhat mild temps in the desert. It’s amazing to me that the stadium is always relatively empty. The shot below is during pregame, so it seems much less crowded than it actually was during the game and again evidence that the Michigan fans were still out on the street.
The game wasn’t close with K State dominating Michigan. The Wolverines had to start a true freshman QB for the first time and, while that in itself is a problem, the bigger issue was their defense had no answers for K State’s offense. K State rolls, 31-14. On Sunday morning, I got a call from a friend inviting me out to the Cards final home game of the season. Considering this game could have been a play in game for the home team, I decided to join (after getting approval from the boss of course).
Glendale is only about 30 minutes away, but the traffic once you get to the stadium adds another 15-20 minutes to the commute. Even still, we arrived in time for the kickoff and quickly realized that it was about 50-50 Cards fans to 9ers fans. We settled into to our cushy Club Level seats and were virtually surrounded by San Fran Fans. This is the first time, that I can recall, that the roof was open for a game in Glendale.
The Cards started slow, falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter – their largest 1st Qtr deficit of the year. But their defense settled down and they tied the score at 17 in the 4th Qtr. After knotting it up again at 20 with less than 40 seconds to go, we’re thinking we scored some additional free football. Not so fast… The 9ers took the kickoff back to the 40 and a couple of plays later kicked the game winning FG as time expired. 23-20 San Fran. In the end, it didn’t matter because New Orleans was in command against Tampa Bay, but it was great to see the Cards finish with all of their heart – and earn a slightly better draft pick and easier schedule for next year. Game 3 of the 5 day span was the Fiesta Bowl. Another trip out to Glendale – this time with the usual “season ticket” crew – minus Marshall. We always get out there a little early to tailgate. This time it was much different – a very low key parking lot with limited fans from either squad.
Regardless, it’s always a great time, but at $195 per ticket, it better be. But then again, football games are always much better with a couple of hours of tailgating with grilling, beers, music and tossing the pigskin. On the way into the stadium, we stopped by a tailgate that was showing the finish of the Rose Bowl as Michigan State pulled off the mild upset over Stanford. An impressive win and #2 for the Big 10 on this day. As we walked away, we were offered free tickets to the game. I’m glad we were able to sell two of our six at face value when the teams were initially announced! You could tell from our seats that are on the back end line of the end zone in the first row of the Ring of Honor that the Baylor faithful dominated the stadium. It was pointed out to me that UCF is second only to ASU in campus enrollment in the US. Even with over 60k enrolled, they had reportedly given back 10,000 tickets. Because of that, they were most likely going to lose over $1M on the game. You can’t buy the amount of exposure they received for $1M, so I’m not sad for them.
While ticket prices plummeted and some were even free, you can never tell what kind of game it will be – just think back to Boise State/Oklahoma, which we also witnessed. Interestingly, Boise State was only a 7-1/2 point underdog for that game. UCF was coming in as a 17 point dog and was given virtually no chance against the high-powered offense of Baylor. But someone forgot to tell O’Leary and the Knights. There were a number of big plays for both sides and in the end, UCF accepted the trophy from the yellow-jacketed crew of Fiesta Bowl Committee and flew back to Orlando. During the off-season, they’ll prepare for their season opener next year against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland. With the Cards and Bills out of the playoff hunt my season for attending football games comes to a close. This 5 day, 3 game span wraps up a solid season of football for me. Overall, I attended seven games including the Pac-12 Championship Game, The Territorial Cup, Penn State/Syracuse Game in the Meadowlands and the Bills/Saints game in New Orleans – so it was a great year for the Wandering Spectator. What a coincidence it would be to see UCF’s final game of the season this year, and their first game of the season next year. Hmmm…