Bowl Challenge

The Bowl Has Its Own Y2K Bug.

GOOD MORNING, MR. Phelps. Your mission, should you be insane enough to accept it, is to try to fill Arizona Stadium with an odd mixture of largely disinterested locals and travelers who would probably rather be someplace else at that particular time of year. And by the way, you have to do it less than 12 hours prior to what promises to be the strangest, wildest, and most incorrect New Year's Eve celebration in nearly a thousand years.

As always, should you or any members of the Insight.coM Force be captured or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Plus, you'll probably get tortured for wearing those God-awful blazers. Good luck, Jim.

(For those of you who think I watched way too much TV as a kid and that it's creepy that I know most of those words, I had a friend who wrote his own lyrics to Lalo Schiffrin's bouncy, bongo-fueled theme music and waited all week for the opportunity to sing them for anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in the room with him at 9 p.m. on Saturday nights. It went like, "Mish-shin Im-pos-si-ble, Mish-shin im-pos-si-ble, Barb'ra Baaaain! Barb'ra Baaaain!" If you do the music in your head, the lyrics actually work in a please-restrain-me-so-I-don't-hurt-myself kinda way. So, "creepy" is a relative term.)

Anyway, we are talking seriously impossible mission here, and it's a shame, because a whole lot of people have worked long and hard to get Tucson's bowl game to where it is, and now we have to deal with six billion idiots who think this New Year's Eve is somehow special.

Well, in a way, it is special, seeing as how it's the 75th consecutive year that Dick Clark has had his New Year's Rockin' Eve. And that's all the more impressive considering TV didn't come into widespread use until the 1950s, so Dick stood out there freezing his butt off for the first 25 years, waiting for someone to invent the television camera.

Actually, television is both the savior and the biggest obstacle for the Bowl. Having a place on the ESPN Bowl Week slate keeps the bowl afloat and in the minds of football fans around the country. But it also banishes the game to a permanent second-tier status, giving it difficult game dates and crappy starting times.

Exhibit A: This year's game will be December 31, 1999, with a kickoff time of 11:45 a.m. It could have been worse. They wanted it to be a night game.

When the original Copper Bowl started back in the late 1980s, it seemed like a fairly decent idea. Back in the '70s, Phoenix had created the Fiesta Bowl, mostly so the ASU Sun Devils would have a bowl game to play in. Through an astonishing series of dumb-luck events (like IBM being willing to pay obscene amounts of money to sponsor the game in a pathetic effort to push its OS-2 operating system, a blazing failure which was rendered stillborn upon delivery by Microsoft's Windows), the Fiesta Bowl grew at a remarkable rate and soon muscled its way into the inner circle of Big Bowl Games, along with the Rose, Orange and Sugar.

People in Tucson figured, "Hey, if the idiots in Phoenix can do it, how hard can it be?" The answer is: plenty hard. People around here keep making the same mistakes over and over again when dealing with Phoenix. Sure, we have better scenery, weather, schools, sports teams, people and Mexican restaurants, not to mention fewer Republicans. But we keep forgetting that Phoenix stands as a shining tribute to the maxim that it's better to be lucky than good.

So while the Fiesta Bowl flourished, the Copper Bowl limped along from one sponsor to another. Domino's Pizza one year, Weiser Lock the next. The Weiser Lock Bowl was embarrassing, but as long as there's a Poulan Weedeater Bowl, we'll never be the worst.

There has never been any rhyme or reason as to the matchups and sizes of crowds. The UA played in the first Copper Bowl and drew well. An intriguing UA-New Mexico contest a couple years ago attracted the best crowd ever. But then last year's West Virginia-Missouri matchup was a dud, athletically and at the box office.

This year could be flat-out disastrous. The game is supposed to invite the No. 5 team from the Big 12 (Colorado or Oklahoma, maybe) and somebody from the Big East, or possibly even Notre Dame. In case you missed it, the (Anymore-Hardly-Even-Puts-Up-A-Fight)ing Irish climbed back into the AP Top 25 after a come-from-behind, bad-call-aided, last-second win over (ahem) Navy.

Even if the game gets an attractive matchup, people simply aren't going to want to travel this year. They'll want to spend the "special" New Year's close to home. Or in Vegas, where Bette Midler's appearing. And it's not that people will be afraid of being Y2K-stranded in a place with 70-degree temperatures, fancy hotels and beautiful golf courses. No, their fear is, after they've left Tucson, for some unforeseen glitch to pop up and suddenly turn Chicago's O'Hare Airport into the fourth-largest city in America.

I look for people who do show up to start leaving around halftime and making a mad dash to the airport. Maybe the traffic engineers should make both sides of Kino Parkway one-way south that day. About the best we can hope for is people spending the week leading up to the game enjoying Tucson, seeing part of the game, then catching their flights out. It might just work.

Next year should be better. Only the smart people will be celebrating the New Year/century/millennium. And Lord knows there aren't a whole lot of us. Or you, depending on my inflated sense of self-worth.

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