Originally created 12/14/01

Christmas Day a tough sell for Vegas Bowl



LAS VEGAS -- If University of Utah fans were as excited as coach Ron McBride about playing in the Las Vegas Bowl on Christmas Day, they might actually use some of the tickets they're buying for the game.

Instead, they'll probably do what bowl organizers hope the rest of the country will do on Dec. 25 - tune in on television because there are no other sports on at the time.

A move to Christmas Day will certainly boost TV ratings for the bowl, but the day is proving a tough sale for fans of both Utah and the University of Southern California.

"There's no place I'd rather be as a coach than in this game," McBride said Thursday.

Utah officials acknowledge they don't expect a lot of fan support when the Utes try to halt a two-game losing streak in the Las Vegas Bowl despite the game being in driving range from Salt Lake City.

Utah brought about 12,000 fans to Las Vegas the last time the team played in the bowl, two years ago, but this year's game is proving to be such a tough sale in a family oriented area that many supporters are buying tickets they don't even plan to use.

"A lot of people are buying tickets that they will give to charity if they don't go," Utah athletic director Chris Hill said. "The timing of the game makes it a little tough."

The prospect of few people in the stands at Sam Boyd Stadium on Christmas Day wasn't enough to dim the excitement of McBride, who was joined by Hill and Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson at Thursday's press conference to hype the game.

USC's Pete Carroll was excited, too, but clearly the game means more to Utah's program than it does to the Trojans.

"We're always aiming to be in the Rose Bowl," Carroll said. "I don't mind saying that I'm disappointed we're not there. But under these circumstances, I'm happy we're here."

While McBride had a conference commissioner and an athletic director with him, Carroll was accompanied by an assistant public relations director for the Pac-10 and Daryl Gross, an assistant athletic director.

The message might not have been lost on Hill, but he wasn't saying.

"All I can say is how it's viewed by us," Hill said. "It's important for us to support this game."

Utah (7-4) got an invitation to the bowl by virtue of its third-place finish in the Mountain West, despite losing its last two games. USC, meanwhile, finished fifth in the Pac-10, but finished strong with four straight wins.

Carroll said the game is important for the Trojans (6-5) to keep building the momentum that helped turn around what might have been a dismal season for the first-year coach.

"I didn't come to USC to struggle and be frustrated," Carroll said. "I came to do great things. At least we're on an upswing. We're fortunate to be in a bowl game."

Carroll said he didn't know how many USC fans would make the drive up I-15 for the game. But he does know the ones who come will be dedicated.

"The fans who leave home on Christmas Day will be great fans," he said.

The press conference was held at the New York-New York hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Just outside the restaurant where the coaches were extolling their teams, USC was a 3-point favorite over Utah in the casino's sports book.