Welcome to the Christmas leftovers edition of "Three Downs and Punt," where we spent Sunday night reheating casseroles, making turkey sandwiches and cramming down a late-night serving of Little Caesars delivered by FIU and Toledo.
Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and commit FIU's head coach, former Miami Hurricanes offensive tackle Mario Cristobal, to memory. When the coaching carousel gets cranked back up one year from now, you'll be hearing his name. A lot.
To the plays!
Speak softly but carry a big ... box of stationery
Monday marks one month since another former Hurricane, Randy Shannon (he wasn't a teammate of Cristobal's, missing it by a year, but he was an assistant coach), was fired by his alma mater. The four-year head coach has kept a decidedly low profile in the past four weeks, even as his name surfaced as a potential candidate for the defensive coordinator position at Texas.
Shannon's silence hasn't surprised the people who know him best. Or, for that matter, even some people who barely know him at all. As a player, the Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys linebacker was respected as a fearless ball hawk. As a defensive coordinator, he was viewed as an aggressive innovator, winning the 2001 Frank Broyles Award for the nation's top assistant coach.
But off the field, Shannon is known as a quietly strong personality -- and believe or not, a relentless author of handwritten thank-you notes.
Opposing coaches, conference executives and even some members of the media all have Shannon notes on their desk pinned to a bulletin board or posted for display behind a refrigerator magnet.
"No one writes handwritten letters anymore, do they?" Jimmy Johnson cracked to me last winter during a TV commercial shoot in Charlotte. Johnson recruited Shannon to Miami and later drafted him to the Cowboys. "But I don't think there is anyone in football that hasn't received a handwritten note from Randy Shannon. And there's no angle. It's never to kiss up. He's usually just checking in, wanting to congratulate you on something or tell you how much you meant to him at some point in his life."
In 2008 my father, Jerry McGee, retired after three decades as a college football official. One of his final games was Virginia Tech at Miami, a huge Thursday night ACC game that Miami won 16-14. Two weeks later he received a note from Shannon congratulating him on a great career. "I was never going to work another Miami game again," Dad says. "There was no benefit to him for doing that. He just did it because it was the right thing to do."
When the Hurricanes arrived in El Paso on Sunday to prepare for their New Year's Eve Sun Bowl matchup with Notre Dame, many members of the team came with notes from Shannon stowed in their bags. During the week after his dismissal, every single player received a handwritten note from the man who had recruited them.
"It wasn't about him, and it certainly wasn't disrespectful to [incoming] Coach [Al] Golden," says cornerback Brandon Harris, a junior who is still undecided on whether he'll return for his senior year. "He just let us know how proud he was of us, and, no matter how crazy things have been around here, represent Miami like it deserves to be represented. Be a class act, no matter what."
For Shannon, that's never been a problem.
Meet bowl season's busiest man
It's easy to forget now, but the first nine editions of the BCS Championship Game were actually played as the actual bowl game that hosted it -- the Rose, Sugar, Orange or Fiesta. In 2008 it went to its current format, still rotating the title game through the same locations but as an extra game played in addition to the original bowl.
That sounds like a great plan unless you are the people charged with hosting the games.
As Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms said to me in 2009, when his group hosted both games, "It's a great opportunity, and it lets more teams and fans experience some very big games. But it is not easy."
With that in mind, I rang this year's version of the busiest man in college football, Fiesta Bowl president/CEO John Junker. Junker, who was named executive director of the game in 1990, gave me some time over the phone while rolling into his Glendale, Ariz., office. From that desk he'll spend the holidays staging not one, not two but three bowl games -- the Insight Bowl (Dec. 28, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN), Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN) and BCS Championship Game (Jan. 10, 8:30 p.m., ESPN) -- played in two different stadiums over 14 days.
Ryan McGee: Three games in two weeks, huh?
John Junker: Yeah (laughs), it doesn't sound like such a great idea when you put it like that. Of course, I'm joking. It's a tremendous honor to be in the BCS title game rotation, and this year our turn is up. This is actually our first go-round since the addition of the championship game; we're the last ones to come up in the rotation (following the Sugar, Orange and Rose), and we're excited about it. People know that the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is hosting both our annual game on New Year's Day and the BCS Championship on Jan. 10, but they may not realize we also host the Insight Bowl first.
RM: But in two different stadiums ...
JJ: Correct. The Insight Bowl is at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the BCS game are at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. As you know, Sun Devil Stadium hosted the Fiesta Bowl for more than three decades. When the new stadium in Glendale opened in 2007 it was the perfect place for a BCS bowl. It's the most advanced stadium on the planet. The Insight Bowl was played in Tucson for years and then moved to Bank One Ballpark, home of the Diamondbacks, for six years. Sun Devil Stadium was the right place to move it when the opportunity became available.
RM: Same staff working all three games?
JJ: Yes, sir. And when Jan. 11 comes, they will be a very tired staff. The stadiums have their own operations people, but our staff handles everything else. We know I-17 (the road between the two stadiums) very well.
RM: So, on Jan. 12, if I call this number, I will find you asleep on a beach somewhere?
JJ: (Laughs) No, not at all. From the end of the games we immediately start into planning for 2011 and 2012. We have staff meetings to talk about what went right and what went wrong with the three games from an operations standpoint. We also have meetings with our corporate partners and talk with the participating schools and conferences to see what improvements we can make.
RM: And get new contracts signed ...
JJ: (Laughs) Yes ... we make sure all of our relationships are in good shape.
RM: There are really only two organizations that dare to stage two games, your group and Florida Citrus Sports, who host the Champs Sports and Capital One Bowls over five days. (The New Orleans and Sugar Bowls are both played in the Superdome but operated by separate organizations.) When the BCS added the title game and thus added an extra game to each BCS bowl's calendar, did you get a lot of phone calls from your colleagues asking for advice?
JJ: Not really. I think each BCS bowl committee has taken their own approach to the challenge of two games in a week. Most of the people running these games have been doing this for a long time, and they know what they're doing. This is the end of the first cycle, so I'm sure they'll take a different approach to some things this next go-round. They all know my number, and if they need me, they'll call.
RM: Is the turnaround of the stadium the biggest challenge?
JJ: Not for those of us who host our events in NFL stadiums. The idea of a quick turnaround inside and around the facility isn't that scary for the Arizona Cardinals operations people. It's the logistics away from the stadium -- the part that really falls on our staff -- that has the potential to be most frantic. Issues like getting two teams in and out of town, hosting a week's worth of events for them, changing out signage at multiple sites, ticket distribution -- all of those things add up. Then we turn around and do it again.
RM: And, in your case, again ...
JJ: That's it.
RM: I'm tired just talking about it.
JJ: Me, too. Now we have to go do it.
Hollywood Bowl 2015?
On Dec. 9, sports and entertainment giant AEG formally unveiled its plans to build a downtown football stadium in Los Angeles, including the drawings from the three finalist architectural firms. The $1 billion L.A. Event Center (insert your corporate title here) will sit alongside Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center, seating 72,000 and including 200-plus skyboxes. The L.A. Times is taking votes from readers on which proposal they like the best here.
During the meeting of L.A.'s largest business players, AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke laid out his stadium plan, confidently predicting that a privately funded deal with the city would be in place as early as March 2011.
The primary purpose behind the new stadium is obvious -- to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles. But AEG also has spelled out plans to host Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours and, according to its website, "major college football games."
Translation: USC, UCLA, the Pac-12 championship game, and, yes, at least one bowl game.
A spokesman from AEG didn't respond to questions about seeking a bowl game, but several Los Angeles-based sports executives did say that those conversations have taken place and that "the pursuit a college bowl game is pretty much common sense." If the stadium finances are in fact ready to go by March, the new facility is expected to be open for business in 2015. That would be pretty well-timed for landing a spot on the crowded bowl calendar.
The current slate of 35 bowl games has been approved through January 2014. Later that spring, the NCAA will hear proposals for new games. Two groups were denied certification in April on the grounds that there likely wouldn't be enough eligible teams to fill more than the current 70 slots. One of those shot down was an attempted revival of the L.A. Christmas Bowl, a matchup between the Pac-10's seventh team versus a selection from either the MAC or WAC, to be played at the L.A. Coliseum on either Dec. 24 or Dec. 27. In the end, the Christmas Bowl wasn't able to secure a backup conference agreement in case there weren't seven bowl-eligible Pac-10 teams.
The original Los Angeles Christmas Festival Bowl was played in 1924, with USC defeating Missouri 20-7. Since then there have been only two other bowl games held in the City of Angels. (No, I'm not counting bowls played in Anaheim or Pasadena.) Both games were won by Fresno State. In 1937, Fresno defeated Central Arkansas in the Charity Bowl. In 1961, the Bulldogs turned back Bowling Green in the Mercy Bowl, a fundraiser to help the families of 16 Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo players who died in a plane crash.
Fresno lost to Cal State Fullerton in Mercy Bowl II, played 10 years later to aid families of three CSF coaches and a pilot who were also killed in a plane crash. But that game was held in Anaheim.
Who will win the next bowl game played in L.A.? No one knows. But it appears we're going to find out sooner than later.
Punt -- virtual smack
The worldwide Interweb is crackling with smack being tossed across the 2,600 miles between Eugene, Ore., and Auburn, Ala. But so far my favorite trash bout is between a pair of 3-D avatars on Xtranormal.
And no, I don't think she's ever going to go out with the dude. But I give him props for digging in and taking his cuts.