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North Texas 36 – UNLV 14: Heart of Dallas Bowl Champs

I walked up the steps of the Cotton Bowl and before me was a sea of Green and White. It was damn near the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Enthusiasm needs fuel. Wins are fuel. The aura from the glory years in the early 2000s was dimming as the years passed on. Apogee’s shine was not so bright anymore, either. The program needed a banner year to get the casuals excited and the fan base recharged.

They delivered.

Nine win seasons aren’t special to other programs — Powerhouse U puts up 9 wins before November, Roll Damn Aggie or whatever — but this isn’t about them. This is about NorthTexas. Specifically — why not North Texas? Why Not bowl games? Why not championships?

Part of having your own football team is enjoying all the cool stuff that comes with it. We’ve had plenty of the losing. We are ready for the winning and the spoils thereof. With winning comes bowl invites. There are many things wrong with the bowl system, the college football system, and college athletics in general, but part of the reason the system perpetuates is that there can be had a whole lot of fun. New Years Day was our time to have a little of that naughty, corrupt, hypocritical fun. It was great.

For a good number of people — myself included — that was our first winning season and our first bowl. This explains a lot of the running on the field in both action and execution. It was done (yay) and it was slow and cautious (huh?). No matter. It was a helluva great way to send off some of the most dynamic and charismatic leaders on the team. That is what a ‘crappy’ bowl feels like? Sign me up for more crap. I’m sure after a string of sustained success we’ll grumble at a Heart of Dallas Bowl invite. I’ll sneer at playing UNLV, and complain about conference championships. Such is life. The journey to being jaded is paved with wins. I look forward to becoming that guy.

Really, if you can’t enjoy competition for it’s own sake, you have some issues. There was a bowl game there for the winning, and dammit if that isn’t reason enough to give it their all, and for you as a fan to go out and cheer. After all, the biggest and most important games are the ones right in front of you.

There was so much to love and so much happening in and around the bowl game. I tried to participate in a little bit of everything as best I could. I didn’t make the big tailgate as I was in the parking lot drinking with twitter friends. I did take a walk around the stadium and mingle, watched the band walk in. The best part was listening to the fans talk about the season and the team. There is and was so much more enthusiasm than I have seen ever before. It’s tremendous.

The Buildup

We couldn’t have planned for a more perfect set up for the bowl game. It was located in Dallas, at the historic Cotton Bowl, and both TCU and SMU are not in the postseason. All eyes and ears were on The Mean Green. The little Ticket had a one hour special on the game on Monday night, the Omni was glowing green and white all NYE, and the trains from Denton were full of fans.

And the opponent was perfect. However much a game against a Big Ten team would help help raise even more awareness, UNLV didn’t steal any of our shine. And we already beat a middling Big Ten team here in DFW (Indiana at Apogee a couple seasons ago). They were good enough to take seriously, but not enough for anyone outside of DFW to get excited about.

Again, the shine was ours and ours alone.

Let it be known that UNLV fans were great in the small doses of them I got. The only ones I had any interaction with were the two outside our hotel that my buddy heckled. “F^&% UNLV!! UNT!! UNT!! EAGLES FLY HIGH!” I don’t know why he chose these to use but it was hilarious. Also, I think I saw them again behind me in the beer line at the Cotton Bowl. Hilarity

According to MeanGreenSports, we had the most DFW area viewers among the bowl games on at that time, too.

The Game

The stadium was rickety, and full of history. It was simultaneously great as it was and also in need of repair/renovation immediately. I had little doubt about the outcome other than the Mean Green have had terrible luck coming off of byes. After a back-and-forth first half that featured some offensive sputtering, the hard hitting by the defense that brought us here and the timely throws, and solid run game that has supported it, put it away. Lots of folks remarked at the hits. The defense’s reputation as the hardest hitting team anyone has faced remained intact.

The best part of the game wasn’t necessarily the team and the game they played. I’ve seen that all season. No, the 38,380 largely UNT crowd was the best part. It was the biggest UNT crowd I’ve seen in my life. Selling out Apogee starts somewhere and that was at the Cotton Bowl. We aren’t Texas, or A&M, or hell –even ECU and that is fine with me. Our bowl record is now at three wins in 100 years and I am neither ashamed nor proud of it. It simply is. The great thing is that we have a chance to improve all these things with this staff, that stadium, this conference, and hopefully, these fans that were at the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Years Day.

Mean Green Fans at HOD Bowl
]2 Mean Green Fans at HOD Bowl

Zach Orr put on a show, Marcus Trice laid some hits, Brandin Byrd pulled off a nice run that was called back, and Derek Thompson threw a couple of TD strikes. In the end the team put on a show that looked a lot like the game against Tulsa. It is because they played so well and did it seemingly without tremendous effort that you can be forgiven for wondering What If We Beat UTSA? It doesn’t matter. This was the perfect way to end the season. Everyone needed this. The players, the coach, Rick Villareal, me. We all needed to go out on top, declare ourselves champions and put up some pictures in the hallways.

The Aftermath

It was the slowest rushing the field ever. That is fine. I heard a few rumors of a rush before the game among a few folks. When the game ended, a few kids jumped over the railings, evaded the slow cops and made their way into the fray. For me, the rest of the day was a euphoric blur. I’ve rooted for teams that have won championships before, and this didn’t feel like that. It felt a little like Dan McCarney said — a beginning — but it was also an end. It was a way to send out some guys that have been a part of making the program respectable. They deserved that. We’ve seen too many all-time North Texas greats go out with losses in front of sparse crowds.

One of the sneaky addicting part of bowl games is the chance to go out on top. We ended the year in disappointment — lost the chance to win the play for the conference championship by losing to a first year (very good) team at home, in front of a decent crowd. Sure, we beat Tulsa on the road. Sending everyone out at home, in front of the most UNT fans these guys have played for in their career? That is something. Who said bowls don’t mean anything?


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