Ranking the Bowls

The talk about the Big East's bowl affiliations, as well as the ever-changing landscape of bowl deals and contracts set me to thinking: Which bowls that West Virginia has participated in have provided the best time for Mountaineer fans?

This topic doesn't look at which bowls are the best for WVU and the Big East in terms of prestige, monetary payouts, exposure and the like. While those things are important, I'm casting them aside for the next few hundred words. Of all the bowls WVU has attended in the last 25 years, which ones rank the best? Which ones were dogs? Which ones would you like to relive?

First, a few ground rules. I'm only including those bowls since 1980 (the opening of the new stadium seems a fair line of demarcation). I have been to each of the bowls since that time, so I have personal experiences to draw on. Finally, the outcome or significance of the game doesn't figure in this ranking – I'm going solely on the experience leading up to the game.

Aside from that, everything is fair game. Outside attractions, parties, food, organized events, travel – it all comes into play in these rankings. Herewith, one man's opinion, from worst to best, of WVU's bowl trips since 1980. Note: The year listed with each bowl refers to the regular season which the bowl was tied to.


Quite possibly the worst bowl game ever. No activities, and members of the bowl committee were surrounded by allegations and controversy over alleged monetary mismanagement. It was cold at the game – had to give my pullover to my wife to wear. Only strolling down Las Olas and taking a water taxi saved this from being a total waste of a trip.

Personal Highlight: Seeing my picture on the front page of a local paper – taken of our group while we were walking into the game.


Woof. What a stinker. Bad weather, few local attractions, and little pre-game excitement. Hopefully the reconstituted Birmingham Bowl will do it a little better.

Personal Highlight: When you can't remember the hotel you were in or what you did in the days leading up to the game, well, suffice it to say there wasn't much going on. The biggest thrill was to watch a game in the stadium where Alabama and Auburn routinely faced off in the Iron Bowl.

15) 1994 CARQUEST BOWL Why can't I remember much about this bowl? It was hot. We stayed in a hotel next to a mall. I had more trouble getting a rental car than Osama Bin Laden would have getting a U.S. Travel Visa. Someone got my credit card number and bought some stuff on it. It took us ten minutes at halftime to make the non-English speaking concession workers understand we wanted water – w-a-t-e-r – to drink.

Personal Highlight: Not getting razzed by the Nebraska fans in town for the Orange Bowl. WVU got smacked by the Cornhuskers in the season opener, but NU fans, with bigger fish to fry, were uniformly cordial. The fact that this was the highlight of this bowl trip says a lot.

14) 1982 GATOR BOWL

A step up in bowl prestige, but not in fan fare, from the 1981 Peach Bowl. I learned that Jacksonville is the largest city in terms of land area in the country, and that you have to cover practically all of it to find something to do. This was before Jacksonville Landing was conceived and built, and activities weren't plentiful. The Alumni Association party at the Pavilion on the beach is the only thing that stands out.

Personal Highlight: In a driving rainstorm that swamped everything in sight, we located a small bar close to the field that was packed with revelers. In a stroke of genius, this establishment (since torn down when the stadium was rebuilt) sold airline-size bottles of spirits for easier in-game consumption. It rained so hard during the game that it filled up the pockets of my father's rain suit, leading him to believe that he had broken the bottles in his pocket.

13) 2004 GATOR BOWL

A repeat visit to the same city is always going to be less exciting (WVU was in the same bowl game the year before), but there were still a few highlights on this trip. A new Mongolian Grill in the Landing offered great food, and the Alumni Association event outside the Stadium offered lots to do and see. Good weather, of course, never hurts.

Personal Highlight: New Year's Eve dinner at the Chart House across the river from downtown Jacksonville. Great food, even better view, good friends and great company. Can't imagine a better night before the game.

12) 1996 GATOR BOWL

A rebuilt stadium and a nice downtown hotel. A nice trip to the Anheuser Busch brewery for a tour. But what really sticks in my mind was listening to a WVU-Georgetown basketball game on the way home and not being able to figure out for five minutes whether WVU had won or lost. Not one of Jack Fleming's better calls. (WVU lost, by the way) to complete a downhill slide at the end of what was a promising trip.

Personal Highlight: Watching an acquaintance run out and stomp on a baby blue streamer after the North Carolina band went by in the parade.


The activities were there. Hordes of people were there. So why doesn't this bowl rank higher on my list? I'm not sure. Maybe it was the weather, which was closer to what we'll get in Toronto for the International bowl than to what we expect from a bowl game. Or maybe it was the attitude of the team, which was expecting a trip to Jacksonville after beating Virginia Tech and Pitt. But Charlotte still offered a lot, including a good outdoor pep rally in the streets, followed by lots of action on Bar Alley. The Alumni Association's party was solid as well. Maybe a return visit would help the rankings

Personal Highlight: Getting chauffeured around Charlotte by a former resident that insisted on showing me the sights at 2:00 a.m. A trip back to our hotel that should have taken ten minutes ended up taking 45. I'm still pretty sure we crossed into several neighboring states.

10) 1989 GATOR BOWL

A bit better experience overall than the 1982 event. Part of it was our hotel, which was actually a condo on the tenth teen of Baymeadows Country Club. Great golf, beautiful scenery, and a private balcony. The pregame party across from the stadium was well attended, with good bands and lots of WVU fans.

Personal Highlight: Birdie on a long par five with water all the way down one side. Can't remember the number or anything else about it – just four very good shots in a row.

9) 2003 GATOR BOWL

The rebuilt stadium and the attractions of Jacksonville Landing made this trip much different from the Gator Bowl visits of the 1980s. Although the stores and restaurants in the Landing seem to turn over as frequently as a pancake at IHOP, there are usually some good places to hang out and talk with Mountaineer fans. The revised parade downtown was much better, and the standard trip for the Anheuser Busch brewery tour continues to impress. Somewhat surprising was the sparse attendance at a free media buffet dinner, which drew representatives from exactly three outlets.

Personal Highlight: Joining numerous Mountaineer fans in shouting down Maryland fans at a watering hole on the Landing. Also notable for the appearance of Chris Richardson as a potential candidate for a staff position on this website, and for a sighting of Scott McBrien at the local Hooter's 10 minutes before curfew. He got a to-go order and made it back to the hotel on time. Damn the bad luck.

8) 2005 SUGAR BOWL

The relocation of this game probably drew a bit of the buzz, as Atlanta, which hosts the SEC championship game and the Peach Bowl, seemed a bit drained by the time the Sugar Bowl rolled around. Still, a visit to the Varsity for the greasiest burger and fires in existence is enough to boost any trip, and the newly completed Georgia Aquarium added a lot to the atmosphere downtown. The New Year's Eve celebration at Atlanta Underground was as overrated as it was crowded, however, and more minus points for not keeping the MARTA subway trains rolling long enough after the game – we caught the last one out from the Stadium back to downtown. It had a "last flight out of Vietnam" feeling for some involved.

Personal Highlight: Covering Coach Rod's championship press conference at 8:00 a.m. after getting into bed about 5:00 a.m. following a night of writing, photo editing, and, yes, celebration. I'll trade a lot of sleep for more BCS wins.

7) 1981 PEACH BOWL

Major fun – some of which was due to the fact that the trip ended a six-year bowl drought. Of course, Atlanta is a major city with lots to do, and Mountaineer fans seem to have a closer affinity with the Georgia capital than most other bowl destinations.

Personal Highlight: The lobby of the Peachtree Plaza was a gathering point for fans of both teams, and there were many libations shared while discussing the contest. Of course, Florida fans, among the most obnoxious in the nation, showed their true colors at many points in the days leading up to the game, but that didn't detract from one of the first big party atmospheres at a bowl game I experienced.


A first chance to explore Tucson. Great lodging, but difficult to navigate in the dark. I ended up driving on the golf course in search of our building at the team hotel, and we later came to find out that the losing team had stayed in our hotel every time. WVU managed to extend the streak. However, there were still lots of activities and attractions to see, so this minor bowl wasn't the clunker of some others on the list. Minus points, however, for the kid at the pool that ran into me while I was photographing the scenery, which resulted in me dropping my camera into the deep end.

Personal Highlight: Taking a tour of an Air Force boneyard with numerous planes, including a B-52 and an SR-71. Plenty of history to soak in, and good company in the form of longtime Mountaineer fan Don Gay, who regaled me stories of some of his time in the service.


You didn't even have to be a country music fan to enjoy this bash. Printer's Alley featured every kind of music you could want – add in great steak and barbeque outlets and pro sports, and this trip was fun-filled. The Alumni Association also put on its best event ever with Brad Paisley at the Wild Horse Saloon. All of these attractions, plus the Grand Ole Opry in a small downtown area made this a surprisingly good week. The debut of the wildly popular Mountaineer Fan Center at the bowl game also served to lift up the experience.

Personal Highlight: Listening to a WVU coach predict that "if Mississippi stays in the man-to-man, we are going to kill them", the night before the game. Could that have been more on the mark?

4) 1987 SUN BOWL

Once again, a new locale that provided lots to see. Tours of military bases, spectacular southwestern scenery (including a drive along a luminaria-lit Cliffside drive on Christmas Eve), and visits to museums were fun enough. Throw in a trip to Mexico with a guide that cost just $6 per head (ours, not his) and this trip offered something for everyone. We also managed a trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico following the game.

Personal. Highlight: Finding out that a six-pack of Corona cost just $2.12 in Juarez. The accompanying bummer was that you could only bring back one case per day. For some reason, haggling with Mexican storekeepers over the cost of items also proved to be wildly entertaining. My father's purchase of a gold and blue sombrero that could cover three counties was a definite high point. I'd love to wear it, but it doesn't fit in any car I've ever owned, and you need three months of Mike Barwis workouts to develop the neck strength to hold your head up when you put it on.


A great turnaround from the previous year's trip to Birmingham. Houston was a new destination for WVU fans, and had numerous attractions. We took in a Rockets basketball game, played golf at the World Houston, and spent a couple of uproarious nights at Gilley's, the world's biggest honky-tonk that was featured in the movie Urban Cowboy. Gilley's later burned to the ground – and no, it wasn't WVU fans that set it ablaze. Staying at the AstroWorld hotel right across the parking lot from the AstroDome didn't hurt either. The bowl might not have been the highest profile game around, but the activities rocked.

Personal Highlight: Riding the bull at Gilley's. Fun on many different levels, and watching the other members of your party attempting to stay on (or keep their pants up) provided just about all the entertainment you could stand.

2) 1993 SUGAR BOWL

What's not to like? The French Quarter, Bourbon Street, cemetery tours, paddleboat tours, aquarium visits – and all within walking distance of the Fairmont Hotel on Canal Street. It was impossible not to have a good time in the days leading up to the game, even with those obnoxious Florida fans about. Looking back, my memories are tempered by the visions of Katrina's damage. Will the city ever be able to recapture its flair?

Personal Highlight: True Cajun and backwater dining at Rita's Café. Never had better river food in my life. Hanging off the balcony at Tropical Isle on Bourbon St and taunting opposing fans while downing a concoction called the "Hand Grenade". Laughing like crazy at an art gallery featuring nothing but paintings of blue dogs. Didn't I tell you we had a good time?


A return trip to the Southwest following the 1987 Sun Bowl might have lowered the "wow" factor about the landscape a bit, but the Phoenix/Scottsdale/Tempe metroplex provided so many attractions that it didn't make a bit of difference. The golf, of course, was outstanding, and WVU's night at Rawhide was a fantastic event that put several thousand Mountaineer fans together for a dinner and rodeo. Great restaurants (like Pinnacle Pete's) did nothing to detract from the experience, either.

Personal Highlight: Almost too many to mention. We actually drove to this game, stopping off at the Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, Sedona Canyon and several Anasazi Indian ruins along the way. For some reason, though, I don't remember any of the drive home.

Also notable for the fact that a female member of our traveling party, noting the incredibly long line at the women's restroom at Rawhide, hopped into the much shorter and more-quickly moving men's line. At that point, I closed my eyes, but apparently everything worked out O.K., because no citations were issued.

Certainly, you have your own memories and rankings of the bowl games you've attended. Share them with us on our football message board!

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