Bowl reps spring surprise visit

Two men in familiar looking yellow sport coats were surprise visitors at the Iowa State v. Missouri game on Saturday. What were two representatives from the Tositos Fiesta Bowl, the site of this year's BCS Championship game, doing in Ames?

Two years ago, those Tostitos Fiesta Bowl jackets were common fixtures around Jack Trice Stadium on game days. The Fiesta Bowl also operates the Bowl, so the representatives from Phoenix were obviously courting their eventual invitee --- the ISU Cyclones.

But the is no longer tied in with the Big 12 and the Fiesta Bowl is hosting the National Championship game this season. So what were those folks doing in Ames on Saturday?

"We're doing advance scouting for next year," said selection committee member and past president Tom Fridena. "Both of these teams (ISU and Missouri) are up and coming teams and both may have a good shot at the Fiesta Bowl in 2004. We wanted to take a look at them, but more importantly we want the Iowa State people to remember our faces."

The love affair between Phoenix and Iowa State fans is still a much talked about subject in the Valley of the Sun, according to Fridena and Jay Fields (in cap in photo), a Fiesta Bowl commissioner who was also in attendance at Saturday's game.

"The people downtown (Phoenix) are still talking about the tremendous showing the Cyclone fans had at the Bowl," Fridena said. "I was unhappy that our association with the Big 12 was not continued because it's a natural for the fans of the midwestern Big 12 schools to enjoy a trip to Phoenix.

"We're now tied in with the Pac 10 and the Big East. It's very difficult for Big East fans to travel that far and for the California Pac 10 fans, a trip to Phoenix is not that big of a deal. But they give us a tremendous television market, so even if we don't get the numbers of fans in the stadium, it's good for the sponsors."

Oddly enough, one of the teams that may have a shot at the Bowl this season is the resurgent hometown Arizona State Sun Devils. That would assure a sellout, but the local hotels, restaurants and other tourist oriented businesses would not enjoy the tremendous activity that they experienced during the Cyclones' visit two years ago.

However, the Bowl was not uppermost in Fridena and Fields' minds Saturday. They are both hoping that the Cyclones can continue their rebuilding project, become BCS eligible next year and consequently a favored target for the Fiesta Bowl selection committee. They are also very excited about Missouri's future and spent quite a bit of their time visiting with the coaches and staff of the Tigers while both were in Ames.

So what about the Fiesta Bowl this season?

"No matter what happens, you guys (the media) are going to second guess things," Fridena said, shaking his head at the prospect of several undefeated teams left standing at the end of the season. "It makes our job very difficult when we can't narrow it down and concentrate on just two or three teams."

Cyclone fans might be interested to know that Fridena was perhaps the first bowl representative to zero in on the Cyclones in the 2000 season. He made a trip to Ames during spring practice that year to begin the process which ultimately led to ISU's invitation to the Bowl.

Cyclone coach Dan McCarney had been attending the Fiesta Frolic for a number of years and had already developed good relations with many of the bowl committee members, according to Fridena. The Frolic is an off season event to which all Division I coaches and athletic directors are invited and McCarney's outgoing personality was well-known before Fridena ever set foot on Iowa soil.

"Dan's certainly one of the best coaches to work with in the country," Fridena said. "And the Iowa State fans are absolutely among the best fans in the country."

Hawkeyes help Cyclones

Perhaps more relevant to the 2002 season was Saturday's game visit by Derrick Fox (in photo), the executive director/president of the Alamo Bowl. The San Antonio classic makes the fourth choice in the Big 12 pecking order behind the BCS and the Cotton and Holiday Bowls, so the Cyclones are still very much in the running for a trip to the Riverwalk.

"Based on the number of fans that Iowa brought to our bowl last year, we know that Iowa State would have a great turnout also if they are one of our teams," Fox said. The Hawkeyes matched up against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech in that event.

"We at the bowl are also well aware of the number of fans that followed the Cyclones to the NCAA regional in 1998," Fox said. "They definitely had the biggest following of any of the four schools that were there."

Saturday's thrilling 42-35 win over the Tigers before an enthusiastic crowd certainly kept the Cyclones on the hot list for the Alamo Bowl, which is set to kick off at 7 CST on Saturday, December 28.

"It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out," Fox said in regards to the rest of the season. "Everybody plays each other coming down the home stretch, especially in the North. You've got Iowa State and K-State next week, then Iowa State against Colorado the following week. Iowa State certainly controls it's own destiny."

Smith alive and well in the Valley of the Sun

Former Iowa State athletic director Gene Smith left Iowa State to become the head man at Arizona State in Tempe and is doing quite well, according to Fiesta Bowl representative Jay Fields.

"I work for A T & T Wireless and we are a major corporate sponsor for Arizona State," Fields said. "I talk to Gene all the time. He came into a situation where there were some major issues, but has really done a great job of getting the program on sound footing."

The Arizona State football team was 7-2 heading into Saturday's action and many of the school's other sports have fared quite well since Smith's arrival.

Smith's obvious goal in Tempe is to improve the fortunes of the ASU Sun Devils, but his presence on the Fiesta Bowl board of directors may be of more interest to Iowa State.

"You can tell Cyclone fans that they have a great friend of their program on the board," said Fields.

Apparently, the Smith connection might come in handy next year around BCS selection time.

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