Showing Up for Sun Bowl a Positive Sign for El Paso
The weather was cold but 47,809 warmed up Sun Bowl Stadium Saturday afternoon. Eventually, the game caught up to the crowd.
El Paso has been catching up itself over the last few years.
Honestly, it looked like this would be a tough sell. Duke's football program has been a great story nationally, but the newly-relevant Blue Devils don't have the kind of name that draws a crowd.
Arizona State is a just a few hours away so there would be lots of day-trippers from the Valley of the Sun, but how would the Sun City respond?
Throw in low clouds, scattered showers and teams not named Notre Dame, and counting the empty seats could easily have tallied five figures. It has in the past.
But check the picture above. Times have clearly changed. There really were nearly 48,000 fans here, the most well-attended bowl of the season thus far. Even after the New Year's Day bowls and the playoffs, the Hyundai Sun Bowl's attendance will hold its own as one of the best of the year.
Perhaps El Pasoans bought tickets with the money they didn't spend on UTEP football. That remains an issue despite a Miners team that won more than it lost, and did it with a local high school hero as one of its biggest stars.
But UTEP is family. The Hyundai Sun Bowl is home improvement, and El Paso is finally recognizing it needs some curb appeal. A little dog has a lot to do with that.
It may look like apples and oranges on the surface, but the El Paso Chihuahuas' birth and existence has helped this city understand what sports can mean and do for the community.
The very public fight over building Southwest University Ballpark opened a lot of eyes. It might be passive-aggressive that El Paso voted out the politicians behind blowing up city hall while voting in hundreds of millions of dollars in the public improvement bonds they supported -- all in the same election -- but it also speaks to a determination to throw off the sleepy border town image that has held this city back.
That Southwest University exceeded expectations and is now a nationally-recognized facility didn't hurt, either. El Paso feels good for treating itself and wants more.
Like family, UTEP is different. The Miners may be too close to be recognized as something that needs help to improve, though it should be.
The recent bowl and current NCAA Tournament drought haven't helped. But neither was being spurned by its oldest and biggest rivals when they broke away to form the Mountain West Conference in the late 1990's. There are no more real rivals for UTEP outside of NMSU.
Speaking of passive-aggressive, UTEP is like the nephew everyone thinks is a screw-up and they'd love to give him a piece of their mind...except for when he shows up at family functions.
If Sean Kugler and Tim Floyd continue to win, the Miners' mojo will improve and El Paso will say they were behind UTEP all the way. That's family for you.
But for everything else, including the Hyundai Sun Bowl -- El Paso's picture postcard to the world -- things are picking up. Because the city wants to.