I’ve had an interesting relationship with the Independence Bowl over the years. Not many of us can say we were at the first one, but I was – as a high school senior with very little to do on a Monday night with 19,163 of my closest friends.
From that point, I went as a college student to watch my university compete (Louisiana Tech, 1977, 1978) before becoming a disdainful member of the media that couldn’t understand some of the choices that were made by the selection committee – back when the selection committee actually did the selecting.
Then I stood by, somewhat in disbelief, as the bowl began to grow in stature with matchups that seemed impossible to believe only a few years earlier (Georgia-Arkansas, LSU-Notre Dame).
That was followed by years of ignoring the game – I probably couldn’t tell you who played who for at least a 10-year period – and now I’m residing in the land of semi-fired-up-no-matter-who-is-playing.
Houston vs. Louisiana-Lafayette isn’t going to make anyone forget the Texas-USC Rose Bowl for the national championship, but it beats the crap out of some of these johnny-come-lately bowls. Both teams are driving distance away and the local ticket buying public knows enough about them to have a rooting interest.
But what I love the most about the Independence Bowl? As Bill Murray said in the movie Stripes to his platoon mates – “it’s the stories that you tell!”
The Independence Bowl has plenty of them.
In 2010, Air Force played Georgia Tech and Aurora, the falcon mascot, bored by the lack of offense in the 14-7 game, just flew away. Off and up out. They found her slumming with the pigeons downtown.
To borrow a Lou Holtz line, if a mascot were going to escape, then it’s a good thing the LSU Tigers weren’t playing.
I went to the 2007 game strictly to see another mascot when Alabama was playing Colorado. I wanted to see Ralphie, the literal Colorado buffalo, get let out of the cage, run around the field and then get hauled back in.
Ralphie brought her A game that night – that’s right, Ralphie is a female – making the 200-yard run in fine fashion. The trouble for Colorado was that it was Alabama running all over the field when the game started as the Crimson Tide put up a 20-spot in the first quarter.
Good pub, bad pub, doesn’t matter as long as you spell and/or pronounce the name right, correct?
There was also the 2006 game, when a celebrity spokesman for title sponsor PetroSun said on national television that the company was honored to be associated with the “Independent Bowl.”
There was a seemingly never-ending stream of coaches who would bail between the time of being chosen for the bowl and the actual game itself. (Take a bow, Lou Holtz.) To Mack Brown’s credit, he stayed and coached Tulane in ’87 before bolting for North Carolina.
Or in the case of Alabama in 2006, the coach (David Shula) got fired before the Independence Bowl. But interim coach Joe Kines made up for it by giving one of the most classic halftime interviews you’ll ever want to see. YouTube it to find out I’m right.
It’s not exactly the kind of speech that we are used to seeing from the guy who replaced Kines after that game – Nick Saban.
And speaking of Saban, he coached in this game. Twice (1995, 2007). So did Jimmy Johnson (1981). So did Steve Spurrier (2005, 2014). And Hall of Famer Don James of Washington (’87). And Bob Stoops (1999). Plus Frank Beamer (1993, 2015).
All told, seven different coaches who have coached in the Independence Bowl have also won a national championship.
You play a bowl game long enough and stuff is going to happen. But when it comes to trophies and the Independence Bowl, they have retired the … um … trophy.
More on that next week.
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