Come chill at the Independence Bowl Friday

Ironic that while I was thinking about Friday’s Independence Bowl being played in below-freezing temperatures, I was watching 81,000 people sit in 19-degree weather at a fairly insignificant NFL game.

It was Monday Night Football, in Green Bay. Standard conditions for this time of year. Locals who weren’t at the game, or watching it, might have spent Monday evening shopping or walking around singing Christmas carols.

The Cheeseheads are used to this wintry stuff. Cougars and Ragin’ Cajuns are not. Neither are the vast majority of Shreveport-Bossier residents.

So that’s why a pal suggested Monday afternoon that I won’t have any traffic trouble Friday going to Independence Stadium for the 2 p.m. contest between Houston and Louisiana-Lafayette. When early risers Friday wake up to single-digit wind chills, that will curtail any thoughts of attending the 46th Annual Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl, he said.

I get it. At least there’s an afternoon kickoff. Warmest part of any day. Even a sub-freezing day.

Let’s speak truth. People who might ordinarily attend the game in moderate weather are likely to stay home and watch on TV, or go do something else. Not calling anybody chicken, not scolding anybody for making that choice – unless you’re going hunting instead.

I’m not criticizing hunters in general, just anyone who goes hunting after ruling out attending the I-Bowl because it will be cold sitting in the stands. It’s going to be cold sitting in your DEER STAND.

It’s ironic cold weather is expected to be a deterrent because the greatest Independence Bowl of all, the one remembered around the country, was the Snow Bowl of New Year’s Eve, 2000. All of the 37,000 who arrived at the stadium that afternoon knew it was gonna be cold – not as nordic as it will be Friday, but the Texas A&M and Mississippi State fans and us locals were ready for freezing temperatures. Nobody was ready for a snowstorm, but it happened, and created a spectacle that is fondly recalled two decades later.

That was NOT the coldest I-Bowl. Try 1982, Wisconsin-Kansas State. The day’s high might have been mid-40s, but by the evening kick, it was 32 with freezing drizzle. Add a 23-mph wind and the “feels like” temp was estimated at 10-below. The announced attendance was 49,523 – half that many, at best, made it to the stadium, and at least half of those checked out by halftime.

The historic footnote: first college football game ever televised live by ESPN. I was one of the ESPN stat guys, in the booth with the iconic duo of Jim Simpson (one of the nicest humans ever) and Coach Bud Wilkinson (who wore one of the thickest fur coats ever; its companion was wrapped around his companion, his 33-years-younger bride).

The “booth” was actually a temporary wood box on the south side of the press box, on scaffolding, because Miz-Lou Network had the primary TV rights and the nice, warm, inside TV booth on the 50-yard line. I will never forget that night because of 1) the wicked cold wind cutting through the “booth;” 2) the kindness of Jim Simpson, then and in future meetings; and 3) Mrs. Wilkinson, and those coats.

People hung in the stands despite the terrible conditions because the Independence Bowl was still young and insecure and it was Shreveport-Bossier clawing for a foothold, if only for a night, on the national TV landscape, and in the world of college football. Now 40 years later, on the strength of a never-ebbing stream of volunteers, along with some bold leadership striking sponsorship deals that sustained the game while maintaining a foothold with conferences and ESPN, the Independence Bowl has survived. That should not be taken lightly.

I have a couple guarantees for you. The I-Bowl’s gonna survive a subpar turnout in the stands Friday. And if you decide to double-layer, then pull on the winter gear and the gloves, and come out to the game, you’ll have fun.

Besides, traffic into the stadium might be light. 

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