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No Wi-Fi, Great Heart Of Dallas Bowl – LaTech Outlasts Illini

December 30th, 2014 · Tags:Cities · Sports · Wi-Fi

HOD14 QB Eyes sized

Would you rather attend a bowl game with one big name program dominating in a blowout, or two midlevel squads duking it out? (… Squads, not the coaches or coaching assistants, the players … figuratively.)

I’ll take the latter.

 

Thus, once again, PingWi-Fi finds itself on the sidelines of the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (previously known as TicketCity). Our team has had a ball during bowl season over the years … still shooting selfies and hyping the crap out of the fact that we were the very first to #tweet an entire bowl game from the press box … while others laughed at us and Twitter back then. Look at the bowls tweeting their brains out now. I digress …

 

So what about this ZHOD14 bowl game?

 

Well … first off … let’s make no mistake. The “heart of Dallas” is a 16-oz. prime rib at Bob’s Steak & Chop House. Yet, this upstart bowl on ESPN has the audacity to be titled Zaxby’s Heart Of Dallas Bowl. Zaxby’s is chicken! Would that be encroachment? How can there be a chicken bowl in Dallas? Furthermore, just whose chicken bowl is it? Raising Cane banners were tugged through the air by advertising planes overheard before game time.

 

And, to carry on our fine-feathered theme, my favorite chicken item of the day: when one of the game’s quarterbacks signaled to change the play at the line of scrimmage by folding his hands into his armpits, and flapped his arms up and down. I kid you not. I guess yelling “Omaha” is just too old school. This QB did the chicken dance behind center.

 

So why would a chicken company sponsor this bowl? I contend, it is because they are smart. (It has been years since one of my clients was the title sponsor of The Citrus Bowl, but it still impresses me how strategic these sponsorships can be.) The game aired on ESPN, which guarantees viewers and recorders for later viewing, especially during the holiday season. Then there are all of the highlight reels and updates. The print. The social media. The viral media. So, for about the cost of what TV ads cost, the sponsor can own a broadcast, many of the TV ads at the breaks, the visual branding on fences, yard markers, elevators, ramps, you name it. The two teams’ jerseys carry the brand, and there lots of on-the-field PR bullet points throughout the game — none more poignant than a time out to honor wounded warriors with a new home.

 

What’s it cost? Though outdated, this link gives you a picture of the dollars/value – Bowl Sponsorships

 

HOD14 Five Tackled sized

 

But forget dollars. The game is about the football. This writer will watch just about any game, Pop Warner on up … but the chance to get on the sidelines of a college game is an honor and extra special. Especially this hard-hitting game in which Louisiana Tech prevailed 35-18.

 

HOD14 2 Hurdles sized

 

I won’t lie. I read a negative tweet about this matchup before the game, and it made me furious. After the game, I felt exonerated. I contend that to these two programs both had statements to make, bragging rights at risk … something to prove and they played their hearts out — on a drizzly dreary day in Dallas.

 

The matchup of the favored Fighting Illini of Illinois State (Big10) and the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech (Conference USA) was a value meal of nice little sub-texts.

 

Item 1:

As coach Skip Holtz was preparing his Bulldogs for battle, the coach’s father – football coaching legend and NFL commentator Lou Holtz was up in the press box sampling a Zaxby’s hot wing. Kinda cool … I mean, “great googley-moogley” this guy coached at Rudy’s alma mater!

 

Item 2:

Two key players in the game were ex-patriots, so to speak. LaTech quarterback Cody Sokol, defected from Iowa of the Big 10 for more playing time in Conference USA. Closer to home, so to speak, the game’s MVP, LaTech linebacker Houston Bates left Illinois to become the heart and soul of the Bulldogs defense — only to be pitted against his former team in the final game of his college career. Pretty poetic.

 

Ha … speaking of ex-patriots, I made some crack/tweet about the “traditional look” of LaTech’s uniforms resembling circa 1972 Steve Grogan (New England) on the field. To my surprise, there is a Grogan on the Bulldog’s roster. (Defensive back Lloyd Grogan … no relation.) What are the odds!?! I digress …

 

HOD14 Bates Sack

Bates = Sack

 

Special Sauce:

In time, LaTech pulled ahead in what had been a close contest, making the score read somewhat one-sided. But in actuality, this was a three-point game at the first of the fourth quarter, 31-28 LaTech.

 

The determining factor of this game? Defense. Ex-Tex Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz and his charges brought pressure all day, led by Bates, who recorded 4.5 sacks … another was negated after a penalty on the Bulldog defense. His 4.5 sacks and 6 tackles against his former team … a new bowl record.

HOD14 Wait For Signal

Dixon Scores, Awaits Signal

Ha! I can still hear the pre-game comment from one veteran sportswriter in the press box: “Look at them. Just look at them. Louisiana Tech is taunting The Illini before the game … like they think they are going to intimidate a Big 10 school. Yah, right.”

 

But give lots of credit to the man Bates was tackling all day, Illini Quarterback Reilly O’Toole. One tough QB. It appeared that, after one hit, the sidelines were asking the signal caller if he was okay. Reilly shook his head to indicate “that no, he didn’t want to leave the game” … ha … or maybe it was to say “no, I have no idea where I am …” Tough! O’Toole was sacked six times total, and he was rushed all day long, but still completed 24 of 39, with one interception, one TD and 295 yards in the air.

On the other size of the ball, with much more protection, a great performance by The Bulldog’s Sokol, who went 14 of 28, for 247 yards … including an 80-yard scoring strike to LaTech’s Kenneth Dixon. Dixon finished the day with four receptions and 63 yards rushing on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Dixon also goes down as the leading rusher in Bulldog history, with 3,410 yards in three seasons. (Dixon is the only FBS player with both a run and a reception of at least 80 yards this season.) Xavier Woods added another TD for the red and blue, with a 69-yard PIC for six. Carlos Henderson had four catches for 90 yards on the day. Sokol … pretty tough too. In what might have been the most interesting play of the day — other than the chicken dance — LaKeith Walls sacked Cody Sokol, causing him to fumble. Jihad Ward returned it 19 yards for The Illini before Dixon forced a fumble and Sokol recovered for The Bulldogs.

 

HOD14 Short Pass 2

For the Illini, Josh Ferguson led the orange and blue with 53 yards on seven carries. Receiver Mike Dudek had 50 yards on one carry, a nice reverse handoff from O’Toole. (Bet I was the only guy on the sidelines wondering if Dudek was related to rock/jazz guitarist Les Dudek who not only played with The Allman Brothers, he — like Greg Allman — was once involved with Cher … I digress.)

 

Reverse

 

In summary, the game was just good football, with lots of big plays and narrow misses and makes. Two kicks hit the cross bar – one an errant extra point attempt by The Illini in the second quarter and a field goal that scored later in the game. All of this, after the game began with the opening kickoff almost spoiled as the kicker slipped on the wet turf. (Illinois also went away with only six points, when a two-point conversion attempt ended in an incomplete pass …)

 

HOD14 Out of Reach sized

 

My advice to you … get out and see a bowl game this year … even if it is a game for pride, rather than all the marbles.

 

HOD14 Sax sized

 

Oh … and about the Wi-Fi … While the current Cotton Bowl Classic is played in a few days, later in AT&T Jerry World in Arlington, Texas, this game was played in the real Cotton Bowl Stadium of Dallas’ Fair Park … a storied old venue … that apparently did not upgrade the Wi-Fi in the press box back when they renovated. You should have seen me and the other writers scrambling to figure out if our laptops even had a port for a wired Internet connection. We did … we hooked up — old school — without Wi-Fi.

 

HOD14 Twirler Crop

 

But the best scrambles of the day? Me getting brushed aside by a security guy so that the ESPN mobile mounted game camera jalopy didn’t run me down … and the mother of the featured twirler trying to snuff out the fire batons on the sideline after her daughter’s 15 minutes of fame. They. Just. Would. Not. Die  …

 

Know what I sayin?