TUCSON - Arizona sophomore defensive end Ricky Elmore walked into McKale Center on Monday morning wearing what appeared to be Batman-adorned pajama bottoms. Now we know what he can use for Christmas.
Instead, as part of his gift pack for Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl, Elmore is to receive an NCAA-approved list of goodies that includes a Nintendo Wii sports pack (and video games) among other stuff whose combined value does not exceed $500.
Not only will the Las Vegas Bowl pay $1 million to both Arizona and BYU, it also will dispense about $125,000 in gift bags to the Cougars, Wildcats and their coaches and support staffs.
No wonder UA senior safety Cam Nelson is eager to leave town. “My bags are already packed,” he declared Monday morning.
For the first time in a decade, the Wildcats will share in bowl-game booty, which can range from cool to absurd. At the 2006 Champs Sports Bowl, Purdue and Maryland players all received a 15-inch flat-screen TV with DVD player.
Not so cool: Part of the gift bag at the ’07 Sun Bowl, Oregon vs. South Florida, was a Helen of Troy hair dryer.
Even less cool: a subscription to ESPN the Magazine, awarded those who played in the 2007 New Mexico Bowl.
UA coach Mike Stoops has played or coached in 18 bowl games, ranging from the 1981 Rose Bowl to the 1993 Copper Bowl. On Monday, he confessed that somewhere, in a drawer or an old box, he has a stash of forgotten bowl-game watches, rings and souvenirs.
“I’m not big on memorabilia,” he said. His BCS championship ring from the 2000 Orange Bowl? “I don’t know if I’ve ever worn it.”
None of this is new, even in bowl-challenged Tucson.
When the 1948 Wildcats qualified for the second-ever Salad Bowl — New Year’s Day, 1949 — it was reported the players demanded $175 apiece. An ultimatum, really. The relatively new NCAA almost croaked at the news.
Once the demands were made public, UA football players issued a statement saying they were not asking for $175 each, but rather demanding that $10,000 be paid to a state-run children’s hospital.
In addition, the Wildcats of ’48 released an eight-part ultimatum before they would agree to play Drake in the Salad Bowl.
They insisted Drake be paid $12,500 to cover expenses. They asked that each player and coach receive two tickets to the game (ticket costs ranged from $2.40 to $6) and that no rent be charged to use Phoenix Union stadium.
Oh, how times have changed. Salad Bowl officials met UA’s demands, which also included a clause specifying that game-day referees from Arizona volunteer their time.
The players had some power 60 years ago. Now, it all lies with the men in suits.
That’s not all that has changed. On Monday, to avoid a possible muddy practice field, the Wildcats trained on Tucson High School’s artificial turf. Two days before the '49 Salad Bowl, rain forced the Wildcats to practice at Bear Down Gym — in stocking feet.
The ’48 Wildcats took a bus to Phoenix a day before the Salad Bowl. They bunked at the Royal Palms Hotel and visited children in a hospital (as the Wildcats will do in Las Vegas this week), and each player and coach was presented a souvenir watch.
Value: $6 each.
Only 14,000 people attended that Salad Bowl (Drake won 14-13). Introduced to the crowd at halftime were notable celebrities, including former world boxing champion Jack Dempsey and Hollywood western star Hop-along Cassidy.
After the game Saturday, the Wildcats will be free to enjoy the Las Vegas Strip. After the Salad Bowl 60 years ago, the Wildcats ate together in the Phoenix Westward Ho Hotel, then took a bus back to Tucson, arriving at midnight.
Their coach, Miles Casteel, was fired shortly thereafter.
Arizona waited another 20 years to play in a bowl game. The 1968 Sun Bowl was considered such a big thing that Gov. Jack Williams flew to El Paso, Texas, on the team charter flight, as did Tucson mayor James Corbett.
Each Wildcat received a Sun Bowl watch. Estimated value: $15 each.
The commander of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, a Tucson High School graduate who had returned from a mission to the moon two days earlier, dispatched a telegram to UA coach Darrell Mudra.
“Beat Auburn,” Borman implored.
The Wildcats lost 34-10, and Mudra resigned a day later.
In 1948 and 1968, Arizona’s bowl ventures were decidedly unsuccessful. The Wildcats lost two games and two coaches. And nobody has more than a $15 watch with which to remember them.