That would be a mistake. I think the Independence Bowl -- which will be played for the 37th time this year -- is one of the most unsung, and disrespected, bowl games in college football.
|original I-Bowl logo |
Maybe Shreveport-Bossier has never been the sports area it desires to be, never supported much well or for long. But the Independence Bowl is something is has done well for a long time.
And while I haven't lived in North Louisiana for almost 24 years, I'm proud to have grown up in that area and proud of the job the Independence Bowl has done.
And I don't like it being criticized or made fun of nationally. That happens far too often. I don't think it's fair.
Sure, when it was the Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl, it was easy for the national media to poke fun at the name. But bless the Poulan company for putting up sponsorship money for a number of years to help the bowl keep going.
Sure, it was easy for the national media to regard the Independence Bowl -- and the trip to Shreveport -- as second-rate. But I guarantee you that the teams playing in the game, almost without except, were grateful to be playing another game.
A look at the schools that have played in the game is a pretty strong list. Start with the SEC -- 10 of the current 14 members have been in the game. Let's just take mighty Alabama as an example. Three times in a seven-year period (2001-07), the Crimson Tide was in the Independence Bowl, the last time in Nick Saban's first season as coach there.
Think he wasn't happy to take a 6-6 team to face Colorado? It gave his team an extra game and three weeks extra practice time. The next year the Tide was unbeaten until the SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl with many of the players who would win the national championship the following year.
Of course, Saban had been to the Independence Bowl before -- in 1995, with Michigan State against ... LSU. Think the I-Bowl people weren't happy to have LSU?
Think they weren't even happier to have LSU vs. Notre Dame two years later? That brought in a (still) record attendance of 50,459.
Yes, the I-Bowl is more than what LSU aspires to now, but in 1995 and '97, under Gerry DiNardo, it helped the Tigers during some dark days.
In the early years, the Independence Bowl often had to settle for some less-than-desirable matchups. But it found some schools with programs that wanted to be in a bowl game and were willing to buy enough tickets to help support the bowl's effort to make the NCAA minimum payoff requirements.
And the I-Bowl has never failed to do that. The minimum payout has gone from $50,000 in 1976 -- when the Southland Conference helped establish the bowl to give its champion a place to play -- to $2,300,000 in 2010 and 2011.
Here's what else goes unsaid and disregarded by the national media: The athletic staffs, players and fans of the participating teams are usually shown a great time by the bowl committee -- good food, hospitality, gifts, interesting visits to local attractions (Shreveport-Bossier has some). Maybe other bowls have more to offer, but the I-Bowl doesn't have to apologize for anything.
It always has been, for the most part, a well-run game because the bowl staff has been conscientious. One of the directors in the 1980s was one of my mentors, Paul Manasseh, just after his time as sports information director at LSU had ended. The current director, Missy Parker Setters, grew up in Shreveport, went to LSU, married an LSU football player, worked in sports information at LSU, and has helped keep the I-Bowl going.
In the early years -- when I was working in Shreveport -- I felt the bowl committee had some big shots whose egos were as large as their blazers were red. They didn't know as much about college football and college athletics as they thought they did; they were as interested in self-promotion as promoting the game.
But give them credit for putting their money and time into the effort. And give them credit for coming up with the Spirit of Independence Award. That's been one of the greatest side benefits of the bowl game.
It began in 1977 with Gen. Omar N. Bradley -- the award is named for him -- and the next few years the honorees were John Wayne, Bob Hope, Paul Harvey, President Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter and Danny Thomas. (The list of honorees is at the bottom of this blog.)
The tradition has continued, and it's a neat one. It's brought national attention to the bowl, and to Shreveport-Bossier.
It would help if Independence Stadium -- once known as State Fair Stadium -- was more modern. I haven't seen a game there in 25 years, but passing by on Interstate-20, it looks archaic on the home and visitors' sides. The south-end zone addition, built in recent years, apparently is a big plus and an entertainment site. It would be nice if Shreveport, some way, could invest in renovating the older parts of the stadium.
But no matter, the Independence Bowl has endured. It deserves more respect than it gets.
Spirit of Independence honorees:
1977 General Omar N. Bradley; 1978 John Wayne; 1979 Bob Hope; 1980 Paul Harvey;
1981 President Ronald Reagan; 1982 Art Linkletter; 1983 Danny Thomas; 1984 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Demonstration Squadron; 1985 Vietnam Veterans; 1986 National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
1987 Brigadier General (USAF retired) Charles E. Yeager; 1988 Coach Eddie Robinson; 1989 Harlem Globetrotters; 1990 Boy Scouts of America; 1991 Barksdale Air Force Base; 1992 Shriner’s Hospital for Children; 1993 Sandra Day O’Conner; 1994 YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Assoc.); 1995 American Red Cross; 1996 Veterans of Foreign Wars.
1997 Fallen Law Enforcement Officers; 1998 Firefighters of America; 1999 World War II Veterans; 2000 General Gabriel P. Disosway; 2001 Heroes of New York City; 2002 Congressional Medal of Honor Society; 2003 Hal Sutton, PGA Tour player and 2004 Ryder Cup captain; 2004 General Tommy Franks; 2005 General Russel Honore; 2006 General Harold Moore.
2007 Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal; 2008 Team Hoyt; 2009 National Football Foundation; 2010 St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; 2011 General Charles C. "Hondo" Campbell