Now, the game’s officials 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.
Today, at Anaheim Stadium at 5:10 p.m., 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.
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.
“I refuse to come to the game if it rains. If it rains tomorrow, I’m on the next flight to Uruguay.”
Starr became the Freedom Bowl’s executive director in 1984 after spending five years directing the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex., 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 down to a mere 24,093.
As of Sunday morning, ticket sales for Freedom II were running around 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 a 20% chance of precipitation in Orange County.
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 of 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 held 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.
Washington remembers what happened to Texas in 1984 and the Huskies have been doing their best to insist their situation is different.
Hugh Millen, Washington’s senior quarterback, said: “Every player in the Pac-10 wants to go to the Rose Bowl. That’s no secret. 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.”
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 on offense, but have yet to figure out its intricacies after switching over 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.
“If we go three downs and a punt, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Mark Hatcher, Colorado’s sophomore quarterback, 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 5 times.
If the Buffaloes get behind early--a distinct possibility--the 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 today. 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 weather forecast that makes Starr a little nervous.
“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. Starr has but one request for Year II: No re-runs. Please.