SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. â€” The Fiesta Bowl loves the Big 12. Loves Oklahoma.
Don't believe it? Chatting with Fiesta executive director John Junker the other day about how to get Sooner fans on the Fiesta Express, Junker said, â€œLet's win this one; that wouldn't hurt.â€
The Fiesta all but waves Big 12 pom-poms.
But OU fans can be slow to swap devotions.
By the time the Fiesta was born in 1971 as a safety net for the Western Athletic Conference, Oklahoma had played in seven Orange Bowls.
By the time the Fiesta hit the big time with the 1986 national championship game, the Sooners had played in seven more Orange Bowls.
So you can understand lingering Oklahoman affections for Miami Beach.
But I can't understand affinity for the Orange Bowl at the expense of OU's new target destination.
Time for Sooner fans to embrace the Fiesta Bowl.
I don't mean this particular Fiesta dud matchup, New Year's Night against Connecticut.
I don't mean quit your crusade for a playoff.
I don't mean pack up the Pathfinder, hit I-40 before daybreak Friday and be in Glendale for kickoff. Spend your money however you wish.
But still, snuggle up to the Fiesta Bowl. Embrace the concept, that times have changed, and OU's hopeful holiday home is the desert, not the beach.
â€œAllegiances have changed,â€ said Bob Stoops. â€œI know as a team and a program, we've embraced it.â€
I periodically hear from OU fans who lament the loss of the Orange Bowl tie. Lament the loss of a tradition; Bud Wilkinson took five Sooner teams to the Orange Bowl and Barry Switzer took nine. Then Stoops' renaissance won the 2000 national title in the Orange Bowl, and OU fans were ready to annex Dade County all over again.
All told, the Sooners have vacationed in Miami 19 times. That's the fourth-most common alliance between bowl and school, and second-most (behind only Michigan and the Rose Bowl) if you discount regional ties.
But mourning the loss of the old Orange Bowl tie is like grieving over the wishbone's demise.
Revel in the memories. But live in the present. And the present is the Fiesta Bowl.
â€œBob and I have talked about that,â€ OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. â€œIn today's world, the Fiesta Bowl is our target destination.
â€œThat doesn't mean we're any less focused on winning the national championship. But ... we need to focus on winning the conference.â€
That's part of the romance of OU's Orange Bowl history. The Sooners never went to Miami wishing they were somewhere else for national title considerations. That can and does happen in the BCS system.
The BCS' non-title games can come across as consolation affairs.
They shouldn't. The Fiesta Bowl is a great event.
â€œThe Fiesta Bowl is the Orange Bowl of the Big Eight days,â€ Castiglione said. â€œIt's the same thing. Really, really special.â€
That's not politically correct in this demand-a-playoff culture. But it's true. The major bowls remain superbly festive.
Great locales. Great matchups (except maybe this one). Great traditions. Great trips for fans and players alike.
That's not saying a playoff wouldn't be better. Not saying it's an impossible order to sell 17,500 tickets in this economy.
But the Fiesta Bowl is a better fit than the Orange for the Big 12. It's 400 miles closer from Norman. The Valley, home of four major-league franchises, goes more ga-ga over its bowl than does Miami. The Fiesta's organization is better. And the Fiesta works with the Big 12 unlike anything seen in the old Big Eight days.
Yes, Junker is a ticket-seller, so be warned about his comments like â€œOU is college football.â€
But Junker backs up his talk with action. The Fiesta takes care of the Big 12 in the dog-eat-dog bowl business.
â€œAbsolutely the Fiesta Bowl has been a great partner,â€ Stoops said.
What the Rose Bowl is to the Big Ten and the Pac-10, the Fiesta Bowl can be to the Big 12.
The Fiesta embraces the Sooners. The Sooners should embrace the Fiesta.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
OU is inching towards being the Fiesta Bowl's most common visitor. This will be the Sooners' fifth appearance.
Penn State, Arizona State, Ohio State and Nebraska have played in six Fiesta Bowls each, though Ohio State also played in a BCS title game under the Fiesta umbrella.
The schools and bowls with the most common appearances:
33: USC-Rose Bowl.
22: Texas-Cotton Bowl.
20: Michigan-Rose Bowl.
19: Oklahoma-Orange Bowl.
17: Nebraska-Orange Bowl.
14: Washington-Rose Bowl; Ohio State-Rose Bowl; LSU-Sugar Bowl.
13: Alabama-Sugar Bowl.
12: Texas A&M-Cotton Bowl; Stanford-Rose Bowl; UCLA-Rose Bowl.
11: Arkansas-Cotton Bowl; BYU-Holiday Bowl.
*-All BCS national title games are included.