Exhausted Organizer Has Mixed Reviews for Freedom Bowl II

Times Staff Writer

And on the day after, Tom Starr, overseer of all that's good and bad with the Freedom Bowl, slept.

And slept.

And slept.

"I'm so physically and emotionally tired," said the Freedom Bowl's executive director, slouched in a press box chair following Washington's 20-17 victory over Colorado in Anaheim Stadium Monday night.

"I compare it to finals in college. You work so hard for so long, when it's finally over, you let down all at once."

With his ever-present walkie-talkie in hand, Starr was a virtual one-man Freedom Bowl Control Monday--meeting with bowl officials, overseeing the press box, talking with broadcasters, pacing the sidelines as official bowl trouble-shooter, presenting the postgame most valuable player awards.

He even temporarily had to act as urban cowboy, helping Colorado cheerleaders corral Ralphie, the rambunctious female buffalo that serves as the Golden Buffs' mascot.

"Ralphie ran on the field too much," Starr said, laughing a tired laugh. "We had to tell her, no, run around the field."

One of a million little problems. Starr sighed.

"I think I'm going to sleep until about 3 tomorrow afternoon," he said.

But before drifting off into hibernation, Starr took time out to take a critical look back at Freedom Bowl II. He was quick to call it a mixed success.

"It was not a flawless performance," Starr said. "We came a million miles from last year, but we still have two million to go."

Plusses, according to Starr: smoother game operation, better playing date and weather, better television contract, an exciting game--even though Starr, as a frenzied Mr. Freedom Bowl, saw little of it.

"Game? What game?" Starr joked. "I can't wait to see it."

Despite all the pregame talk of Freedom Bore , that Starr had drafted a dog of a matchup by enlisting 6-5 Washington against unknown Colorado, the game featured a surprise hero (Washington's sophomore quarterback Chris Chandler, who passed for 141 yards and ran for 72 more), some trick plays (Colorado's Barry Helton throwing a 31-yard scoring pass off a fake field goal), a rally by the Buffaloes and an outcome that wasn't decided until the final drive of the fourth quarter.

The problem was that only 30,961 showed up to witness the excitement. There were 6,878 no-shows, bringing official ticket sales to 37,839.

That's better than last year's in-house crowd of 24,093--and more than enough to earn certification for 1986 (the game needed to sell 26,000 tickets)-- but far short of the figure Starr had in mind.

"I'm a perfectionist. I want 70,000," Starr said. "Realistically, I would've been satisfied with 40,000.

"I'm disappointed because we had beautiful weather and we worked so hard, but I also realize we're still only 14 months old.

"We know that Mr. and Mrs. Joe Fan won't fill Anaheim Stadium. We know what we have to do, and that's enlist a major corporation as a sponsor. We hope to have one within the next three months.

"Our goal for 1986 is to have 50% of all tickets purchased by corporate sponsors."

Corporate sponsorship has become the life blood of college bowl games, particularly new ones. Detroit's Cherry Bowl sold 51,000 for its Dec. 21 matchup between Maryland and Syracuse--nearly half to private corporations.

Colorado (12,000) and Washington (5,000) combined for 17,000 of Freedom II's ticket sales. After two years, Starr has come to the realization that the Freedom Bowl will not live on Orange County community support alone.

"The Rams-Cowboys playoff game still hasn't sold out," Starr said. "I saw a great high school game here between Edison and Long Beach Poly (the Big-Five Conference final), and it drew only 8,800. There are just so many distractions here, so many things to do."

Corporate sponsorship will also enable the Freedom Bowl to upgrade its team payments, which should enable it to draw bigger-name teams. Currently, the Freedom Bowl pays $500,000 per team, the minimum allowed by the NCAA.

Earlier in the week, Starr had talked of the Freedom Bowl's progress over the past two years. A history buff, Starr brought out a World War II analogy.

"Last year, we had our Kassirien Pass--where America had its tails kicked in South Africa," he said. "This year, we're at Normandy. Now, we're looking to break out."

And how did D-Day go for the Freedom Bowl?

"We took the beach but got wounded," Starr said with a smile. "But, I'll recover."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World