The last time WVU played in the Fiesta Bowl, on Jan. 2, 1989 in the national championship game versus Notre Dame, the economic and social impact was so great that Fiesta officials have long desired to get the program back in the desert. The Mountaineers brought an estimated 30,000-plus fans in its previous trip, and though that number will not likely be matched because of some disappointment over not reaching the BCS title game, WVU was an instant pick when it was available.
"People are still talking about West Virginia from the last time it was here," said Dick Stemple, Chairman of the Board for the Fiesta Bowl and a Webster Springs native who moved to the area 40 years ago. "Some of the media have already said they think the Fiesta Bowl might have the best match-up of the bowl season. I used to dream about (WVU playing again in the bowl). I have sort of turned into the natural liaison to the Big East.
"I would see Eddie (Pastilong, West Virginia athletics director) and Rich (Rodriguez, head coach) and say ‘I hope we get you this year, hope we get you this year.' I was at the Louisville game last year and was at South Florida and Louisville this year. One of my colleagues was at Cincinnati this year. You have been on our radar map forever. There were 10 different scenarios. We were so happy about what we got."
That desire, combined with a sort of domino affect, put WVU in the Fiesta. After the BCS title game automatically took Ohio State and LSU and the tie-in slots were filled, West Virginia and Hawaii were the lone automatic qualifiers left. The teams joined Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Georgia, which were at-large possibilities, with the Bulldogs immediately sliding into the Sugar Bowl slot vacated by LSU's ascension. The Rose Bowl got its traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 game, leaving Kansas, Missouri, WVU and Hawaii. Missouri was left out, and since bowl games cannot match teams from the same conference, it came down to WVU-Georgia again, or the Fiesta's desire to have the Mountaineers. The Arizona bowl had the first choice, and made its pick known.
"I want to congratulate the Mountaineers and welcome them to Arizona," Fiesta Bowl Media Relations representative Paul Jenson. "We want to welcome Mountaineer nation. We have some 2,800 volunteers putting on what we consider the best bowl available."
There are a myriad of reasons why. There are more than 100 golf courses within one hour of Phoenix, ranging from championship level links to more basic setups. The weather is expected to be between 50 and 65 degrees, making for ideal conditions in an area that gets 300-plus days of sunshine per year. Add in Arizona State basketball (vs. St. Francis, Pa. On Dec. 29 and Oregon on Jan 3), NBA basketball (Suns), NHL hockey (Coyotes), an international raceway, hiking and biking at Thunder Mountain national park, and the recreational offerings are exceptional, especially combined with the retail and food availabilities.
"There is a lot to do in Glendale," said Jennifer Reichelt, a representative from the City of Glendale and a native of the regional area. "You will get to experience our new, state-of-the-art stadium. It is just two years old, natural grass with a field that retracts and a roof that does the same. This will be the second Fiesta Bowl held there. In a matter of one month we will have the Fiesta Bowl, the Insight Bowl and the Super Bowl.
"There is shopping, dining, entertainment, nightlife and restaurants that have nightlife. It really depends upon what you are looking for. It does get chilly – bring a jacket – but it's not cold. In terms of never having been here, Westgate City Center (Westgateaz.com) is a great place to start. It's close to the entertainment district and stadium. Then our historic downtown is a place with lots of shopping and dining. We share boarders with Phoenix, so we're about three miles from there and 12 miles from Tempe. We're the west valley, Tempe is the east valley. Also, jeeping in the desert, off-roading, hiking, ATVs, those are all things to do. There are tour guides, or you can do it on your own. If you go to local websites, they have links to those things."
VisitGlendale.com and GlendalesGotGame.com are the most thorough for more information. The economic impact of the Insight Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and the BCS national championship last season was $400 million. It is expected to be greater this year with the Super Bowl.
Other events include – On Dec. 28 – National high school band championship finals. Dec. 29: Bowl Parade (WVU band will not be attending, as it will not yet have reached town), Youth Sports Clinic adjacent to University of Phoenix Stadium. Dec. 31 – Insight Bowl, a 40-plus band and entertainment acts block party that will begin at 7:30 p.m., just as the Insight Bowl (Oklahoma State-Indiana) is ending, a concert by the Barenaked Ladies, two fireworks displays (10:15 and 12:15 p.m.), a Fiesta Bowl logo drop at midnight and other events. All take place two blocks from the stadium and along an artificial lakefront created from the Salt River. On Jan. 2 – the Fiesta Bowl will host "College Football's Biggest Party," a tailgate event expected to draw 20,000 fans. The Mountaineer Marching Band and WVU cheerleaders and their counterparts from Oklahoma will be there. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. Local/Arizona time (the state does not observe daylight savings), 8 p.m. EST.