Bowl on the Brink; Warriors Bounce Back in Game 2; Lasorda Memories
Has the Bay Area's college football bowl game reached the end of the line?
The bowl, which has been on hiatus for the past two years, did not appear on the 2022-23 schedule released a few weeks ago by Bowl Season (the national organization of bowl games) and no announcement was forthcoming from the bowl, its most-recent conference participants (Pac-12 and Big Ten) or its most recent TV network (Fox).
Some quick background: Since its founding 20 years ago, the game has been known as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl, Emerald Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl and Redbox Bowl.
I was privileged to be one of the co-founders of the game, along with former Giants executive Pat Gallagher and former San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau chief John Marks, and served as its executive director for 14 years.
A lot of people thought we were crazy to launch a bowl game in San Francisco. The Bay Area was not known as a hotbed of college football, the market was dominated by professional teams, and the national landscape was littered with the carcasses of unsuccessful bowl games.
But we proved the skeptics wrong.
The bowl made its debut in a downpour on New Year's Eve 2002 at AT&T Park, pitting Virginia Tech against Air Force Academy. Two years later, the Navy-New Mexico game was a turning point in terms of profitability and public acceptance, as the Midshipmen brought a huge crowd and national interest to the game.
Then we put together agreements with the Pac-10 and ACC, and four sellout games followed in 2006 (UCLA-Florida State), 2008 (Cal-Miami), 2009 (USC-Boston College) and 2011 (Nevada-Boston College). The 2006, '08 and '09 games also ranked among the top 10 bowls in terms of television ratings, attracting audiences of over 4 million viewers.
Operated under the auspices of the non-profit San Francisco Bowl Game Association, the game was celebrated nationally for providing outstanding hospitality to its competing teams, thanks to a dedicated and enthusiastic volunteer host committee led by my old friend Steve Steinhart, and the attractions of our home city.
Some of college football's top coaches, including Bobby Bowden, Pete Carroll (pictured above), Frank Beamer, and Mike Riley became vocal advocates for our bowl.
The setting also made the game unique. It was played at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants baseball club, for 12 years, before moving to Levi's Stadium in 2014.
The game was broadcast on ESPN from 2002-2015, drawing consistently high ratings, before the 49ers, who had taken over management of the game after my retirement in 2016, moved it to Fox in an ill-fated move that contributed to the game's decline. Like all bowls, the game was also diminished by the national obsession with the College Football Playoff, the endless proliferation of post-season games, and the advent of cheesy title sponsorships.
In early 2020, the 49ers and Fox opted not to renew their contracts with the bowl, which then went dark because of the impact of COVID and the difficulty of finalizing concurrent new contracts with a title sponsor, two conferences, a venue, and a TV network.
Hopefully, it can be resurrected in time for the 2022 season. Ryan Oppelt, who served as my assistant for 14 years and later succeeded me as executive director under the 49ers' umbrella, is doing his best to keep the game alive, wisely incorporating a return to the Giants' ballpark and ESPN, but the odds are long and the clock is ticking.
Warriors Rebound: After a shocking fourth quarter collapse in Game 1 at Chase Center, during which the Celtics made nine 3-pointers and won going away, the Warriors came out much more aggressively last night in Game 2 of the NBA Finals and won 107-88.
As usual, the Warriors leaned on Steph Curry's individual greatness and leadership. But the key factor was their defense, led by Draymond Green. They held Boston to 37% shooting and had 15 steals; the Celtics' 18 turnovers led to 33 Golden State points.
The Warriors not only ratcheted up their intensity and physicality, but they made a number of changes in defensive assignments. Green, the team’s disruptor-in-chief, set the tone against Jaylen Brown, while Klay Thompson shut down Al Horford, who was wide open throughout Game 1. And Curry, whose defense has improved markedly this year, blanketed Marcus Smart.
Two other important contributors were Jordan Poole, bouncing back from an awful Game 1 to score 17 points, and Gary Payton, returning from a broken elbow suffered against Memphis.
The Warriors have won a road game in 26 straight playoff series and I think they’ll do so again in Boston this week, en route to winning their fourth championship in the last eight years.
Lasorda Interlude: Love him or hate him, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was one of the most colorful characters in baseball. His post-game rant after the Cubs' Dave Kingman hit three home runs against the Dodgers in 1978 is one of the funniest things I've ever heard.
Last week Sports Illustrated reminded us of the anniversary of the game on May 31, 1948, when Lasorda struck out 25 batters in 15-innings while pitching for the Class C Schenectady Blue Jays against the Amsterdam Rugmakers. Lasorda also had the game-winning walk-off single in the 15th.
Before finding his niche in scouting and coaching. Lasorda had a brief major league career, posting an 0-4 record and 6.48 ERA in 20 games with the Dodgers and A's.
He only start for the Dodgers came on May 5, 1955, when he was yanked after tying a major-league record with three wild pitches in the first inning. Lasorda was demoted after that game and never pitched for the Dodgers again, but as manager later directed them to two world championships.
Note: The Inside Track will be on vacation in Puerto Vallarta next week. We'll return Monday, June 20, hopefully after the Warriors beat the Celtics in Game 7 on Father's Day and the Stanford baseball team is in Omaha participating in the College World Series.