There will be, what, close to 100 players on both sidelines, and nine coaches per team, and however many trainers at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday. And only one will have ever been in a Fiesta Bowl before.
Really, Washington coach Chris Petersen isn’t just some guy who has coached in the Fiesta Bowl before, either. He’s a major part of this game’s 47-year history. He’s the guy who gave the go-ahead to perhaps the most famous college football trick play of the last 20 years, completing what probably still stands as the game that kind of made the old Bowl Championship Series fun.
Funny, though, how little Petersen seems to want to talk about that play.
If you don’t remember it, here it is. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Petersen’s upstart Boise State team taking on Big-12 champion Oklahoma. David vs. Goliath, on the gridiron. Trailing late, Petersen’s Broncos dialed up this play:
The running back, Ian Johnson, would later propose to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader. They’ve been married a decade now, but back then, that whole situation made national newscasts.
But Petersen said that while he hasn’t been asked about that play as often in recent years as he was in the few after that game was played, he insisted it’s not a moment he talks to his current Huskies players about, even as the Washington program goes to the Fiesta Bowl for the first time.
“It’s interesting,” Petersen said. “After the game went down, we really tried to spend a lot of time moving on from it, because that’s all anybody wanted to talk about. We really wanted to move our team forward and not live in the past. And so for probably three or four years, people would bring it up and we just acted like it didn’t happen, didn’t hear the question, move on.
“I think you look back in your career at certain games and really appreciate things that have happened. But I’ve said this before: Everybody likes to talk about that first Fiesta Bowl. I was maybe more proud of our second Fiesta Bowl win (in 2010) against TCU. TCU was really, really good. And for us to win that game, I was equally if not more proud of our team, but nobody spoke about it as much because there wasn’t wedding proposals and all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But they were both really awesome times to be at this site and this game.”
Penn State has had its share of Fiesta Bowl success, of course.
It is 6-0 in this game, including one of the two biggest wins in program history: A 14-10 win over top-ranked Miami that gave the Nittany Lions and coach Joe Paterno their second national championship.
Penn State coach James Franklin was just 14 when that game was played, and outside of its obvious significance in Nittany Lions history, he didn’t see much need, either, to give his players a refresher course on the fact that it happened here in the Valley of the Sun.
“The 1987 Fiesta Bowl, our guys weren’t even alive,” Franklin pointed out. “Most of them, their memories of football, when football really became significant to them, is like eighth and ninth grade. So I think that’s where the recent success that we’ve been having is really putting Penn State back on the minds of football fans across the country and recruits across the country. … Our guys understand and they take a lot of pride in our history and our traditions. But we’re really just focused on this team and the University of Washington and getting prepared to play well on Saturday. And talking about the Fiesta Bowl from back then, it doesn’t have a whole lot of value for what we’re trying to do today.”