Ever since that clock hit 0:00, I've been dreading writing this initial article. I have much to say about the game, the events, the coaches, and the players. So for this first article back, I'm going to strictly focus on what the Sun Bowl experience was like. I will save the game and player analysis for later. The lone exception to this is that I regret to inform you that we have lost 2 quarterbacks. I am serious about this, Kevan Smith has been moved to wide receiver with the possibility of converting him to tight end. Also switching positions was the much called for Greg Cross. He will be moving to safety. This is not a joke.
So on to the Sun Bowl experience. As some of you know regular poster, Cat Basket reader, and good friend of mine Brian joined me on this fantastic journey. Due to Pittsburgh International airport having crazy high prices for flights to El Paso, Brian and I decided to fly out of Washington D.C. so that we could save some money, visit some friends, and also get to attend the Pitt vs Georgetown basketball game (what a win by the Panthers). We drove to our friends house on the 29th so that we could catch our 7 a.m. flight on the 30th. After a couple of flights we arrived in El Paso around 11 in the morning. Following this we were able to enjoy some unexpected problems as Priceline had messed up my car rental and hotel reservation, but it was all resolved in the end.
The first thing we did was head over to the team hotel to pick up our tickets and spend some time with one of our favorite athletic department employees, Chris Ferris. I can't speak for Brian, but I know I was impressed how they decorated the hotel for Pitt. There were Let's Go Pitt banners and signs all around the hotel, the employees all wore Pitt gear, and even most impressive was above the lobby desk, there were 4 clocks showing 4 different time zones. For the eastern time zone they put a Pitt plaque over the sign where it once said eastern time zone.
Following our run through the hotel, we decided to go check out UTEP. I must say it wasn't an overly impressive campus, but it was pretty nice. The neat thing about it is that since it is a mountainous they were able to landscape the campus in a unique way with impressive views. The one bad thing though is much like cardiac hill, the campus can be very steep in parts of it. Our first site was the Sun Bowl itself. We tried getting in but were unsuccessful due to many workers inside getting prepared for the game. We did however find this staircase outside of the stadium that led up to a little walkway where we were able to get some good pictures of the stadium and surrounding areas. After that little trip, we tried getting into the basketball stadium but alas that too was locked.
We followed that up with a little excursion to New Mexico. Wow, what a dumpy state that is. No wonder Herb Pope wanted out and got out right away. We drove past the Sun Land Casino and a dumpy amusement park that was near by and decided that was good enough then turned back to El Paso.
Once we got back to El Paso we hung out at the Fan Fiesta. This event was actually pretty awesome. We were greeted outside with some dancers and drummers that I doubt many people have ever seen a similar style to before. Once inside we headed into the "Pitt Party Room". Brian and I hung out near the huge projection screen that was showing Pitt highlights on a loop mixed in with some Ac/Dc to appease the Pittsburgh crowd.
After enough fun in there we headed in the main hall of the convention center where a 70's cover band wearing white jump suits and donning huge afro wigs were entertaining the crowd. They played for a while and then were replaced by announcing the court for the little Sun Princess Ball Whatever thing it was. We then were treated to story after story after story by many different Sun Bowl representatives. Once they were finished rambling we were treated to a battle of the bands. OSU either has a small band or decided not to bring many band members to the trip because Pitt out numbered them easily 2 to 1. In terms of the fans inside, the Pitt section was completely filled while there were many open seats on the Oregon State side. The Pitt band rocked (shout out to Max, Josh, and Griffin Butt), the Pitt fans were loud and boisterous, and the blue and gold spirit was very high. The Pitt band was louder, clearer and crisper than OSU and played much more enjoyable songs. The highlight of the night was of course the playing of Sweet Caroline. Pitt fans have really embraced this new tradition (even Jones did at WVU). The fans sang loudly and I don't know if El Paso had ever seen anything like that before. The night was capped off with a fireworks show to impress the yinzers. This was a fun experience as the fireworks went off too close to the ground and ashes came down burning and leaving soot on the crowd.
On to gameday. Brian and I ventured back over to the team hotel to catch the shuttle over to the stadium. On the way over we were lucky enough to ride with the families of John Malecki, Hot rod, and some others. Once there we headed up to the Pitt tailgate. This event was fun, but it wasn't as good as the one at Navy. While the lunch food was nothing to ride home about, they egg and cheese sandwiches were amazing. Brian and I ate out lunch with some of the coaches wives and after that decided to walk around a bit. We ended up near a table just hanging out. As I was standing up adjusting my seat I was shoved by some guy trying to get to the food table. While being pushed, Brian said "look who is behind you". Turns out Tony Dorsett was pushing me out of his way so that he could get some fruit. It ends up we were at a bad table because Tony sat near us and everyone then came up to bug him for a photo. It was funny when he had to go up and speak to the crowd and a few of the people who wanted to get a picture with him were mad because they had to pull him away. It reminded me of when you see a kid outside playing and their mom makes them come inside for only 10 minutes, yet they throw a big hissy fit.
Enough about this tailgate, lets get to the game. We went in about an hour early to scope things out. I was surprised how many people were in there by the time we got in. I was also impressed with the nice hat that they gave us for free just for attending. The hat came in handy as the sun was bright that day and helped me avoid a nasty sun burn on my shaved head. We were sitting around the 15 yard line near the end zone that said Oregon State and were directly behind the Pitt band.
I must say that the more I go to traditional stadiums (like MSU, Sun Bowl, Pitt Stadium) I am very glad we have Heinz Field. It is very nice being able to sit back during down time instead of sitting on an uncomfortable bleacher. The one weird thing about the stadium was that the only scoreboards were in the open end of the stadium. On the closed side there wasn't anything there to show you the time, down, or yards needed. Outside of that I enjoyed the stadium. The stadium was built into the side of the mountain. It is a view that you will not be able to get anywhere else.
Overall minus the game it was a great experience. I look forward to going to more bowls in the future and checking out other places and events to see how they compare. I must say though that after this trip, I doubt I will ever head back to El Paso. This is one of those trips that if you have the chance to make, you should. However, if you go once, that is about all you need to satisfy your appetite.
Keep checking back as I will be posting a ton over the next few days before the semester starts to analyze the game and other items. Also, I will be posting a link later to the pictures from the trip as well as a few videos I took.