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And the Tradition Continues : But Will Raindrops Persist in Falling on Tom Starr’s Head?

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Now, the game’s directors no longer have to explain that they’re not the Independence Bowl or the Liberty Bowl. Now, they can put a Roman numeral next to the name Freedom Bowl.

At 5:10 p.m. today, at Anaheim Stadium, Washington and Colorado get together to kick off Freedom Bowl II . By billing alone, that means there has to have been a Freedom Bowl I.

And that means the Freedom Bowl now has what every bowl game worth its corporate sponsorship needs--tradition.

It isn’t much, but, well, you do the best with what’s available.

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When one thinks of the first Freedom Bowl (and haven’t you lately?), two things quickly come to mind:

One, the rain that kept Orange County football fans away. And, two, the tepid performance by the Texas Longhorns, who, demoralized by their failure to land a Cotton Bowl bid, sleepwalked through a 55-17 thrashing at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Both points of tradition were certainly on the minds of many when members of the Colorado Buffaloes and the Washington Huskies gathered for their final pregame press conference Sunday at the Disneyland Hotel.

“I was driving around Long Beach (Saturday) and it started sprinkling,” said Tom Starr, the Freedom Bowl’s executive director. “I almost drove the car off the pier.

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“I refuse to come to the game if it rains. If it rains tomorrow, I’m on the next flight to Uruguay.”

Starr came to the Freedom Bowl in 1984 after spending five years directing the Sun Bowl in El Paso, where he had heard it never rains in Southern California. Yeah, sure. A mini-monsoon hit Anaheim Stadium just before game time last year, washing out any hope for walk-up ticket sales and holding attendance to a mere 24,093.

As of Sunday morning, ticket sales for Freedom II were running about 31,000. Starr is hoping for 40,000 in house--if it stays dry.

But Saturday night, it rained. And again on Sunday. And the outlook for today is 20% chance of precipitation in Orange County.

Uh, Tom, about that reservation on Air Uruguay . . .

Along with the weather, the big topic of conversation Sunday was incentive. The theory making the rounds is that all the motivation in Freedom Bowl II belongs to underdog Colorado, a team that was 1-10 a year ago and is thrilled to be playing in its first postseason game since January 1977.

“There are 36 bowl teams this year,” Colorado Coach Bill McCartney said, “and I believe I can say ours is the most excited to be in a bowl game. We were the longest shots around. Our guys are having the time of their lives.”

Conversely, Washington has been placed in the role Texas had last year: Disappointed to be here. For the record, the Huskies disagree, but a team that began 1985 ranked No. 1 in several preseason polls didn’t figure to wind up in Anaheim in December with a 6-5 record.

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Washington remembers what happened to Texas in 1984, and the Huskies have been doing their best to insist their situation is different.

“Every player in the Pac-10 wants to go to the Rose Bowl. That’s no secret,” said Hugh Millen, Washington’s senior quarterback. “But, then, Rockefeller wants more money. Just because we did not reach our highest goal, there’s no reason why we can’t take pride in being in the Freedom Bowl.”

Said cornerback Vestee Jackson: “People are saying Colorado is more excited to be here, and I could see how that could be true. But I say it’s an honor for the Huskies to be here.”

Coach Don James: “Some of our alumni are not too excited about 6-5. We owe people a good football game.”

And more from Millen: “Iowa missed a shot at the Rose Bowl last year, too. Both Iowa and Texas didn’t achieve their goals, but Iowa had a big Freedom Bowl . . . I think we’ll take the frustration we had this season and channel it into aggression. We have something to show the people of Seattle and get some respect back.”

Of course, Washington finds itself in a no-win situation. If the Huskies beat Colorado, big deal, this was a team that was supposed to win the Rose Bowl. And if they lose . . . well, it could shoot Washington’s 1985-86 recruiting campaign down the tubes.

The Huskies are favored by four points, a conservative estimate considering the relative talent at hand. Colorado fashioned a 7-4 record largely on the strength of its defense and All-American punter Barry Helton. The Buffaloes run the wishbone, but have yet to figure out its intricacies after switching from a failed passing attack in 1984.

McCartney admits his offense isn’t a strong point. When he talks offense, he mentions such things as “giving our defense good field position” and keeping the defense off the field long enough to catch its breath.

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“If we go three downs and a punt,” he said, “we’re in trouble.”

Colorado’s sophomore quarterback, Mark Hatcher, threw a total of 51 passes in 1985. He completed 16, producing a meager 31.4 completion percentage, 325 yards and 1 touchdown. He was intercepted five times.

If the Buffaloes get behind early--a distinct possibility--tonight’s competition could get really ugly.

McCartney concedes that Colorado’s offense needs to get more colorful--in a hurry.

“It’s been my experience in bowl games that if you go with what brought you here, you’re vulnerable,” McCartney said. “We must mix things up and keep them off-balance. If we don’t, with their personnel . . . “

McCartney’s voice trailed off. That was one possibility he didn’t want to consider.

Still, the possibility exists that Washington could lose this game. Colorado is indeed fired up, and the Huskies are hurting. Two key offensive players, Millen and fullback Rick Fenney, will not start tonight. Millen, bothered by calcium deposits in his throwing arm, may not play at all.

James will start sophomore Chris Chandler at quarterback. “Right now, I don’t see Hugh playing,” James said. “We’ll try to get him in there somewhere, (but) he’ll probably play only if Chris is hurt.”

Fenney, suffering from a sore hamstring, will be limited to a reserve role, according to James. “We hope to get him in about the third series,” he said.

So there you have it. Washington has the talent, but the injuries. Colorado has the incentive.

And the Freedom Bowl has a nervous weather forecast to deal with. Starr casted his eyes skyward and pleaded for a break.

“I haven’t lived that bad of a life,” he said, managing a grin. “Well, there was that one night in Toledo.”

And there was that one night in Anaheim last year. The Freedom Bowl has but one request for Year II: No re-runs. Please.

Freedom Bowl Notes

Tom Starr expects pregame ticket sales to approach 33,000. If the weather holds, Starr is hopeful of 7,000 in walk-up sales. “That wouldn’t be bad, 40,000,” Starr said. “Satisfied? No, I’d be satisfied with 50,000.” . . . USA Cable Network, in conjunction with Lorimar Sports Network, will televise the game nationally, with Barry Tompkins calling the play-by-play and new Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz providing color commentary. The game will be blacked out locally, but broadcast live on radio, KMPC 710. . . . Colorado will have its first team curfew of the week tonight. Coach Bill McCartney has held a loose rein since the Buffaloes arrived in Orange County Wednesday. “When I played in a bowl game at Missouri,” McCartney said, “we slept on mats in a monastery. That wasn’t much of a reward at all. At Michigan (where McCartney was an assistant coach), we tried every approach. Nobody has a monopoly on how to prepare for a bowl game. Here, we’ve practiced hard in the morning and turned them loose in the afternoon. The guys are a little weary now, but they’ll rest up today and tomorrow morning.” . . . Don James on the same subject: “We arrived early (Dec. 21), which was good. If you get to the bowl site early, the players go after the girls right away and spend all their money. After that, they have to stay in their hotel room and concentrate on football.” . . . As defensive coordinator at Michigan, McCartney coached in two Rose Bowls against James--losing 27-20 in 1977 and winning 23-6 in 1980. McCartney on James’ offensive strategy: “They were beating us, 17-0, one year with two minutes to go in the first half. James had them fake punt for a 60-yard gain. I never, in my wildest dreams, expected that. His willingness to do the unexpected is a big reason for his success (5-2) in bowl games.” . . . McCartney, too, says he plans to open up Colorado’s offense tonight. Trouble is, the wishbone isn’t conducive to much beyond running the football. “Everybody wants us to pass more, but the difficult thing with the wishbone is that it’s tough to protect the passer,” McCartney said. “We went into the Oklahoma game saying we were going to pass 20 times. And we tried. But, we just couldn’t get the ball off.” . . . Iowa is in town, preparing for the Rose Bowl, and the Freedom Bowl extended an invitation to the Hawkeyes, wanting to honor last year’s champions at halftime. But Iowa Coach Hayden Fry, adopting a Spartan training regimen for his team, declined the offer.


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