Welcome to Tropical Shreveport!

Sure, it is disappointing to miss out on a post-season bowl. Sixteen straight years of holiday trips have spoiled the Big Orange.

I was looking forward to following the Vols into the bowls this year. My travel agent sent me a big packet of tourist information about Pasadena back in August. I threw that away after the Florida game. In October, William Shatner was helping me find the best deals on hotels in Atlanta and by November, I was checking gas prices for a quick trip to Nashville. Now, with the orange jerseys going to mothballs before Thanksgiving, what is there to look forward to? Sit and home and sulk? Dollywood? Tour the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg? Find the Lost Sea? Finally go and See Rock City?

I have decided to travel to a bowl game anyway. I have the money set aside. I had already planned to be away from work. Where to go? Some fans may dream of trips to Miami, Pasadena, or Tempe but the real insiders know the hottest spot for fun is in Shreveport, Louisiana-or more precisely, the Shreveport-Bossier City Region!

Hosting the Independence Bowl on Saturday, December 30th, the fine folks in Shreveport (and Bossier City) sure know how to put on a show. It's a football and family destination that's sure to please! Proud Independence Bowl representatives were recently spotted in and around Neyland Stadium in their sharp powder blue sportcoats. You can tell these guys love college football almost as much as they love to party. Even though Tennessee won't be bowling, they sure would love to have a big old passel of Vol fans to "Come on down!" as that guy on The Price is Right used to say.

Shreveport (and Bossier City) give a disappointed Vol fan all he needs to forget his troubles. History buffs will remember that Captain Henry Miller Shreve, a steam boat captain and superintendent of Western River Improvement, cleared a great logjam known as the "Great Raft" in the 1830s. The Great Raft stretched 165 miles along the Red River. Captain Shreve's work opened the area to commerce, marking the beginning of growth and prosperity for the area. Bossier City had its beginnings in the 1840s, apparently given its' name in reference to Captain Shreve's difficult and dominant wife. The town became the home of Barksdale Air Force Base in 1933 and since that time has been one of the fastest growing cities in the state. Citizens adopted a fake Frenchy-fied pronunciation of the city's name in 1968.

Famous for seven floating casinos, a new strip mall, and over eight Denny's locations, the Shreveport-Bossier City area offers visitors year-round family fun and excitement.

This year's Independence Bowl is sure to be one of the classic games in the history of the bowl game. Patriotic citizens of Shreveport began the bowl way back in 1976. In recognition of the US of A's bicentennial that year, they chose a name fitting for celebrating our great nation- The Liberty Bowl. After learning there was already a Liberty Bowl in Memphis, they settled upon The Freedom Bowl, and once they found that name also taken, they tried The All American Bowl, and The Garden State Bowl without success. One enterprising Chamber of Commerce president wanted to name the game The Rose Bowl, hoping the prestigious name would attract better football teams. Several legal entanglements later, a federal judge in Baton Rouge gave them their name – The Independence Bowl, and so it has been ever since.

The first game featured almost-local favorite McNeese State against the long-traveling Tulsa Golden Hurricane. It is believed that McNeese won the game, but scores were apparently not kept until the mid-1980s. I was privileged to be a part of the rich history and pageantry of the Independence Bowl in 1986. My Texas Tech Red Raiders lost to the Ole Miss Rebels, but losing the last football game I ever played was no damper on the thrilling week of activities the folks in Shreveport-Bossier City had planned for us. It was so thrilling and memorable that I am booking my Shreveport vacation right now. So what if the Vols don't follow me there. I know I'll have the time of my life no matter who is playing.

From the bowl website, I know this year's events include:

Dec. 7 Team Announcement Party (invitation only) Stadium Club 6 p.m.

Dec. 26 Team Arrival Hotels TBD

Dec. 27 Kids Day Out (invitation only) Party Central/Sci-Port 10:30 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Dec. 27 Ladies Day Out (invitation only) Louisiana Boardwalk 11 a.m.-3:30p.m.

Dec. 27 Team Welcome Party (invitation only) Bossier Civic Center 6 p.m.

Dec. 28 FCA Breakfast (open to the public) Convention Hall 7:30 a.m.

Dec. 28 Chairman's VIP Party (invitation only) University Club 7 p.m.

Dec. 29 Final News Conference (media only) Expo Hall, 2nd Floor 10:00 a.m.

Dec. 29 Minuteman Luncheon (open to the public) Expo Hall 11:30 a.m.

Dec. 29 Pep Rally (open to the public) Louisiana Boardwalk 5:30 p.m.

Dec. 29 Media Dinner (media only) Ernest's Orleans 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 29 Band Party (team bands only) Convention Hall 8 p.m.

Dec. 30 Member Tailgate Party (members only) Louisiana Land Building 11 a.m.

Dec. 30 30th Independence Bowl Kickoff Independence Stadium 2:30 p.m.

I especially look forward to the FCA Breakfast, Minuteman Luncheon and the Pep Rally. If the Member's Only Tailgate Party has anything to do with those lightweight jackets people used to wear, I might be able to borrow one. I remember there being a lot of those jackets at the Independence Bowl in 1986, so maybe that is a local custom.

Speaking of jackets, did you notice the kickoff time is 2:30 PM! After many years of night games, the bowl gurus have moved this Saturday Game to afternoon. Wow! Break out the sunscreen! Most night Independence Bowls have had kickoff temperatures right around freezing, but the day game should bring balmy low 50's weather.

The best known Independence Bowl game was the 2000 contest between Mississippi State and Texas A&M. It snowed so hard all day and during the game that no one could tell where the goal lines were. With similar color schemes and uniforms covered with snow, television announcers described the mayhem and confusion to dozens of people watching at home. The final score was 43-41 in overtime. Both teams have claimed victory.

The Independence Bowl has had several named sponsors over the years. The first few years were sponsored by Miss Adam's Fifth Grade Class from Bossier City Christian School. In 1990, Louisiana Tech met Maryland in the first Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl. Lovingly known to college football fans as the Weedwhacker Bowl, the game usually pitted a forgettable team from one of the service academies against the sixth or seventh best team from the SEC or SWC.

Poulan/Weed Eater announced in April of 1997 that it would no longer be the game's title sponsor. At that time Glen Krupica, Independence Bowl Executive Director, and a search committee, began the task of finding the second title sponsor of the Independence Bowl. In just under a year Sanford stepped up as the new title sponsor, signing on for three years. Sanford, a Watts area junk magnate, died in 2001, finally succumbing to the "Big One" he had been anticipating for years.

The 1999 Sanford Independence Bowl was notably the last football game of 1999 and the first game of the new millennium in the Eastern time zone, as it ended at 12:03 a.m. Since every known American was elsewhere celebrating New Year's Eve with family and friends, it is not even certain which teams played in the game. Vanderbilt has claimed victory.

Earlier this year, the bowl extended its conference alignments with the SEC and the Big 12 through the 2009 seasons. The SEC won't be able to fulfill its contract since only six conference teams managed the six win minimum. The I-Bowl (which is the super hipster way of saying the bowl name) has a payout of $1.2 million per team. Tickets are available through the I-Bowl (!) Website or from Miss Adams' Fifth Grade Class members.

I'll see you in Shreveport!

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