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December 23, 2008

(bowl bye)
(Las Vegas Bowl: UA 31, BYU 21)

Sometimes what happens in Vegas never leaves.

After a Friday night of contributing to the local economy, I decided to consult a Las Vegas oracle as to our chances the following day. I walked up to a roulette wheel and put an all-or-nothing wager on – of course – red. Round and round the ball went before settling in a most unsettling spot.

Double zero.

So you can imagine my concern as I watched the basketball team get dismantled. On the way back to the car I calmly took the taunting from the UNLV student wearing the Mexican wrestling mask. The day wasn’t over. We had another game to play.

And play we did.

(Worst part of the basketball game? I can’t decide between the 19 turnovers and the single three-point basket made. The best part? Well…the indoor fireworks were nice.)

At the blackjack tables the dealers tell you a push is a win. When it comes to trading a non-conference basketball loss for a victory in your first postseason football game in a decade, they couldn’t be more right.

We’re now onto our second hand’s worth of bowl victories. That makes three in a row, or – as the really loud guy in my row put it – we’re undefeated in bowl games the last 14 years.

Contrast that with BYU. At the pep rally Friday night the BYU representative made a point to announce that this was the Cougars’ 27th bowl game. That sounds intimidating until you realize they’ve only won nine of them. Yes, it’s better to lose a bowl game than not go at all. But it’s much, much, much better to win.

At the football game I ended up sitting (i.e., standing) in the section with the UA players’ families. The game feels a little closer when you see Ronnie Palmer’s clan waving his #33, or a jacket that reads “Big Earl’s Big Sis,” or the Tuihalamakas and their great hair, or the mountain of manliness that is the Family GRONK! It reminds you how important this stuff is to so many people, and it makes you proud for your small part in it.

That’s what I’m going to remember most about this Vegas adventure: The sheer joy on the faces of everyone associated with the Wildcats after the game. Being on that field and seeing the seniors and Coach Stoops holding up that trophy with the confetti all around us, it’s a sports moment I’ll never forget.

The season is officially a success. You can complain about the three bad losses but I’m going to focus on the three good wins and be content. Four months ago I wrote:

My season tickets arrived in the mail on 08-08-08. May they represent 08 wins.

Isn’t it nice to get what you want every once in a while?

The losses to bad teams do need to stop, but we can look at that as the next step. We are beyond competitive. The 2008 Wildcats were in every single game and that shouldn’t be overlooked. The next goals are A) beat all the teams you should beat, and B) start winning the close games against good teams.

Next year’s schedule is definitely tougher. Gone are 2-10 Idaho and 3-9 Toledo. In their place we have a pair of eight-win teams in Central Michigan (playing in their bowl the day after Christmas) and Iowa (teeing it up on New Year’s Day).

Initially I wasn’t thrilled with our game being on the very first day of bowl season but now that we’ve won we get to watch all the other games in peace. And every time we see a list of all the bowl results, or the conference bowl standings, or even just a regular cereal bowl, we will stop and smile.

After that we have recruiting (come on down, D-tackles!), and draft decisions (come on back, Eben!). We’ll also have the bonus fun of our first quarterback controversy in four years, so get ready for random rumors and wild speculation like, “I just saw Nick Foles at Carl’s Jr. and he took five minutes to pick a combo meal. How is he going to read USC’s defense if he can’t choose a burger?!”

And get ready to dream. What if the new quarterback quickly picks up the offense and lets the returning talent carry him? How good are we going to be the next time we have a senior QB? Are we going to be planning bigger and better bowl trips?

I wouldn’t bet against it.

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