Tis the Season

From gaming systems to living room furniture, members of the Wisconsin Badgers were like kids in a candy store when they had a chance Sunday to pick out their bowl gifts.

MADISON – Playing in a bowl game is special enough for the 70 schools that get an invitation. Members of the University of Wisconsin found out Sunday about some of the other benefits of playing in a big-time bowl game.

A gift suite was set up before a recent practice where players and coaches could chose from 27 items of varying lavishness — including a Lazy-Boy leather recliner, Xbox 360 and a 22-inch flat-screen TV to camcorders, the latest Ipod with headphones and a mountain bike.

Each player received six credits which he could use to pick out a combination of different goodies. The items ranged from one credit to six, with the six-credit items being the more lavish items.

"Just getting the chance to pick out things is pretty cool," said tight end Lance Kendricks.

The NCAA allows each of the 35 bowls to award $500 worth of gifts to 125 participants from each school and each bowl game presents it differently.

In addition to Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl (Ohio State), TicketCity Bowl (Northwestern) and the Insight Bowl (Iowa) each got to go through a gift suite in addition to receiving other gifts like watches and caps.

Other events chose to be more specific. The Texas Bowl gave members of the Illini an Apple iPod touch, Fossil watch, bowl T-shirt, backpack and a belt buckle; the Gator Bowl is giving Michigan a commemorative football, Fossil watch, Oakley sunglasses, leather duffel bag and a Jostens ring and the Outback Bowl is getting Joe Paterno's Penn State squad a $150 Best Buy gift card, Fossil watch, bowl cap, Jostens ring and, of course, a $25 Outback Steakhouse gift certificate.

Attending the Champs Sports Bowl the past two years, Wisconsin got a $500 shopping spree at an Orlando-area Best Buy and senior safety Jay Valai said this was just as good.

"I am just blessed to get anything," Valai said. "Anytime you get a chance to get some free stuff, it's a blessing."

TCU, the Badgers' opponent on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif., sent its players and coaches through the gift suite Tuesday while the Badgers sent their players in on Sunday.

"We actually gave them a little bit of a tip off the day before," UW Coach Bret Bielema said. "We sent them an email and showed them what was available. I got a kick out of it. We let our seniors start at 10:30 and there were a couple of them already walking in there at 10:15."

There were plenty of players happy to show off their goods. Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon grabbed the TV, Gabe Carimi picked a Nintendo Wii gaming system, Scott Tolzien opted for some headphone and a digital camera and Niles Brinkley settled for a couple things after he realized a recliner would be hard to transport back to St. Louis.

"I didn't want my parents driving up here in the snow having to tow a lazy boy," Brinkley said.

While suite is meant to reward players for their team's accomplishment during the season, several players decided to do some holiday shopping for their families, particularly their dads.

"Right away when a couple of guys were talking about things there was a big reclining chair," Bielema said. "I heard two or three kids say, 'Oh, I'm going to get that for my dad.' It just gave me another example of how our kids think.

"Here they have the ability to get something for themselves and the kids were going to get something for their dad. I think that's pretty neat."


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