This story was written by recent Oklahoma State special teams captain and linebacker Deion Imade. Deion is a frequent contributor to Go Pokes. He works in Tulsa and also contributes to the Cowboys Radio Network. Imade played his last game in the 2014 Cotton Bowl against Missouri.
One thing that goes with being a former Division 1 football player is that after you’re playing days are far behind you there are still a lot of questions that you will be asked about your experience of playing football. Especially if you played at such a high level. You get these questions from your friends and family, from your coworkers, and even just the average man or woman you meet on the street.
The number one question that most of them always ask is, "what is the best part about playing division one college football for a major university?" Well, no wait, that probably is the second most asked question. The number one question is definitely, "Do you miss playing?" The answer is always, "of course." But the answer to the second most asked questions is always something I enjoy telling people about, they can probably see it from my facial expressions before I even say the words, "bowl games."
As you can imagine as a Division I athlete you don't have as much free time as the average college student. So much time is taken place inside the training facilities practicing, working out, watching film, while also trying to keep up with your course load by studying and going to class and tutors takes up time. There isn't much time to hang out with your friends and be social as much as you would think.
Spending time with your teammates is something I know that I took for granted, with the bowl game we got a lot of time to do that. Coach Gundy used to tell us that the road games were a business trip and we had to act professional, it was only until we make a bowl game that we can treat it like a vacation and have fun and act like the college students that we are.
That is exactly what we try to do at these bowl sites, practice hard and prepare for the game but when it is time to have fun and hanging out with each other in the hotel rooms and on the bus to and from practice and to the bowl events we do. Especially with the bowl events that we get to take part in like Sea World, Top Golf, and professional football and basketball games. In all of those events there was time to hang out with each other and have fun, crack jokes, and take advantage of the times that we didn't get to hang out with each other during the school year.
The other reason that bowl games are amazing is simply the bowl gifts. Who doesn't love free stuff and nice things? Well, college students love them even more, and with the privilege that comes with playing in a bowl game comes with free stuff, not only free food, and cool events, but they actually give you gifts. I know what you’re thinking, it’s not just those cheap Christmas sweaters or those flimsy T-shirt although we get those too. No, they give you pretty nice and expensive gifts. Things that you’re not going to just use, or playing with once and throw it in the back of your closet.
I remember my senior year getting an iPad from the Cotton Bowl. I remember getting an Xbox my freshman from the Alamo Bowl, and every year I remember getting a watch and backpacks that I still wear and use to this day, just all the swag you can imagine and it's free. With most bowl games you're going to have to miss Christmas with your family. Yeah, it sucks that you don't get to see your family on Christmas Day. That is just another one of the sacrifices you and your family have to make to play this game, but with bowl gifts like we received during our times while we were playing I didn’t hear too much complaints.
The third aspect that I think it is truly great about bowl games is the extra football that you get to play. Not a lot of people talk about this but the teams that truly have success year after year after year are those who participate in bowl games every year. It allows you to get extra practice time, not just the starters and the guys that are going to see plenty of playing time during the game, but extra time for those backups and third-string guys that are really going to contribute to your team next year and be the future of the program.
This allows them to get some extra work on specific skills and the basic fundamentals that will help them accomplish individual and team goals later in their career and get a head start on spring football. It also allows those seniors to relish in the opportunity to have one more last game to slap on the pads for possibly the last time they'll ever get to do it.
It is a good way to send them off, where the practice are not so much where you're just grinding away trying to physically and mentally prepare for the upcoming challenge. Instead, you get to put in the work while also getting the chance to look up from the grind and appreciate all the hard work you have put in throughout your career. You realize that no matter what, this is going to be your last opportunity to play in those pads and that helmet that you’ve grown to enjoy wearing and knowing you are representing your school.
There are a lot of folks that are saying there are too many bowl games and some teams don't deserve to play that in them. Those people, some media, complain that it hurts the quality of college football and the value of the game. What they don't understand is that college athletes work all year round and sacrificed so much so they can have the opportunity to playing in one of these games. Having the privilege to play in these games is why we wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning the go to workouts, and why we stay at school during the summer and train while others are out there having fun in the sun.
All that is for the opportunity to travel to fun bowl sites, and get nice bowl gifts. It’s not all about leaving the campus and getting cool gifts, it’s also about getting one more chance to put on those cleats one last time that year, so we can play one last game, and sometimes that last game is the last game that will ever play. Bowl games are the best part of college football, and shame on those who say they're too many bowl games and that some teams don't deserve to play in bowls because those kids have worked way too hard to deserve to play in a bowl game.