ESPN Gildan New Mexico Bowl 2016 – A Family Tradition
by Sherri Barth and Aaron Cowan
“It’s become a tradition. You can’t create something like that overnight…This is a quality of life event, this isn’t all about a football game, it’s arts, it’s theatre, it’s sports,” according to Jeff Siembieda, Executive Director, ESPN Gildan New Mexico Bowl. With much anticipation of the first bowl of the season, The 11th Annual Gildan New Mexico Bowl kicks off this Saturday, December 17th at Branch Field University Stadium. The New Mexico Lobos take on the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Roadrunners in an even match-up, with the Lobos 8-4 season record and San Antonio Roadrunners 6-6 standing.
Siembieda said the first bowl of the season, is a “national scale event” which brings a diversity of families, friends, and corporations together for the holidays, and unites the community as a whole. The bowl has put Albuquerque in the spotlight, building its reputation over a decade, as a major event to attend, one of the “things to do” for the holidays. People come from out of town to be a part of the bowl, not just the teams to play, but families and friends mark this particular event on their calendar annually. With national television coverage from ESPN, it is the event people take pride in attending, as the community comes together as a whole for comradery. Siembieda said the bowl brings people into Albuquerque that wouldn’t be here otherwise, “pumping” an abundance of revenue into this community.
The ESPN Gildan New Mexico Bowl works all year round with non-profit groups and charities to involve kids, families, and those less fortunate, who wouldn’t normally be able to attend a bowl game. The Gildan NM Bowl reaches out to the Heart Gallery of New Mexico Foundation, touching foster families with free tickets to their annual bowl. Candace Gould, Executive Director of the Heart Gallery of New Mexico said Siembieda not only gives a block of tickets to the kids in foster families; but, the bowl is also a monetary sponsor to the Heart Gallery of New Mexico’s Annual Event, Open Your Heart Gala, for the last six years.
Undoubtedly, kids have a soft spot in the hearts of the Gildan NM Bowl staff, as they extended a special gift to the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Mexico. Tim Sheahan, Executive Director, said the bowl graced a $15,000 imagination foam playground, like Legos, in which the kids configure to fit their creativity on any given day. During bowl week, the kids met the players and received gifts from them at a team event. According to Sheahan, on “game day we will be selling 50/50 raffle tickets, 50% (of the proceeds) goes to the Boys and Girls Club and 50% goes to the winner, so we’re looking forward to making some money at the event”.
From UTSA’s First Athletic Director to former UNM Director of Athletics, Rudy Davalos has one foot in each state, when it comes to choosing New Mexico or Texas. As the Lobos and Roadrunners (aka “the Runners”) face off this Saturday, one man, Rudy Davlos, will be fighting a battle with himself not to take sides. “I want to put on my ESPN hat and remain neutral”, he said.
However, it’s easier said than done for Davlos, a San Antonio native son, who built the Division I athletics program at UTSA, when he worked there from 1976 to 1984. Ultimately, he moved on to other jobs, and ended up as the Vice President of Athletics at UNM. However, the sports machine that he set in motion all those years ago in Texas, will now be coming against his beloved Lobos.
At this point, Davlos admits that it looks like the Lobos have the advantage. They are favored by a seven point spread and are playing on their turf. This should give a morale boost, if a sea of cherry and silver floods Branch University Stadium to howl for the home team. They also have the top-rated rushing attack in the country right now. However, UTSA has also been impressive, despite having a new coach, Frank Wilson, and a football program that is only six years old.
In terms of experience the Lobos definitely have the edge as well. This is their 13th bowl game, while it is the first bowl bid for the Runners. For Lobo #10, quarterback Austin Apodaca, it is his 3rd bowl game. “I think I’m the first person in history to play in 3 New Mexico bowls,” he said, adding, “Third time’s a charm hopefully.”
There is a lot riding on this game. A win here would considerably improve his chances of playing professionally, since he plans to train for the NFL after leaving UNM. “I’m going to go see how far I can take football and see if I can train for the NFL,” he says.
This may be their best chance yet. Even in terms of coaching, UTSA head coach Frank Wilson has just one season under his belt and a 6-6 record, compared to Lobo Coach Bob Davie, who has a 61-61 recorded over the last 10 seasons. Still Coach Davie is not dismissing Wilson. While he says he doesn’t know Wilson personally he says, “He has a heck of a reputation as a recruiter”.
As for the UTSA team Davie also expressed a lot of admiration. “I’ve known that program and I’ve watched it and always had a keen interest in it,” he says. “They’ve got a good scheme and a lot of offense.” In fact, Davie says he has known their VP of Athletics Lynn Hickey since 1985, and went to San Antonio to talk to her about their football program when they first started to set it up in 2008.
It’s a question of whether the Lobos or the Roadrunners will excel and take the bowl in this much talked about “parallelism” of the two teams. The Lobos have faced UTSA twice so far. In 2014 the Lobos beat UTSA 21-9 at the Alamodome, after having lost to them two months earlier by 21-13. “We are going into this game with our eyes wide open” Davie said. Both teams know that they face a tough opponent and that this game will be the tie-breaker. According to Siembieda, the bowl is an event like a Broadway play or major concert, a large-scale event that is the “thing to do” during the holidays. “Not everybody is going to want to go to a football game, go to a play, or see a concert,” but he said everyone wants to be at “the event”. Gildan New Mexico Bowl tickets are still available at the University of New Mexico Ticket Office, www.unmjtickets.com, by calling (505) 925-LOBO or (505) 925-5999. Bowl ticket prices are $40 for premium and $25 for end zone seats. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl is “a carnival, a festival…there’s a football game that’s a centerpiece of it…it’s a quality of life event,” said Siembieda.