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Quick Lane Bowl Highlights Joy of “Minor” Bowl Games

Minnesota wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky (82) is tackled by Central Michigan defensive back Josh Cox (14) after a pass reception during the second half of the Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Detroit.
Photo: Carlos Osorio, AP

My fellow writer (and esteemed editor-in-chief) Andrew Kulha has written in the past about how the minor bowl games aren’t just fillers. I look to expound on that a little bit and provide some full context on what exactly goes beyond simply “watching” a bowl game.

Being a fan of Mid-American Conference football, it grinds at the gears of my fandom heart to hear that the “minor” bowl games hold no bearing for anyone. The arguments are familiar, the talk around the water cooler about “the Bitcoin Bowl? That’s a snoozer,” or better yet, “only the Playoff games matter.”

Well, to be frank, the water cooler talk is not wrong. But, it’s not right, either.

For the 68 teams not participating in the New Year’s Six or the Playoff, these games are more than just “filler” games, or games meant for TV. These games matter.

Of course, they all matter for different reasons.

For teams, it’s a litmus test of where a certain football program is in a given season. For scouts and analysts, it is a chance to see potential draft prospects get some big game action before going pro. For fans, these bowl games give them one more chance to see their team win a game with a trophy in the balance, and there is no better feeling than watching your team win the game on TV with friends at the bar.

The Quick Lane Bowl was an example of that concept in action.

On an awful weather day on a Tuesday night in Detroit, a Group of Five team that surpassed all expectations to get to a bowl game—the Central Michigan Chippewas—met a Power Five team that had to rely on a new rule to clinch its bid after a season that saw an unexpected coaching change—the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Signs in and around Detroit welcomed traveling fans to the Quick Lane Bowl, and downtown was painted in the team colors and the orange, blue, and white of Quick Lane Automotive Services. This was Detroit’s college football game, and Detroit provided an appropriate background for this particular bowl, as the story-lines were ripe for the picking.

A crowd of over 34,000 filled the seats at Ford Field to watch a matchup between two teams that had a lot to prove. CMU was the only MAC school to be facing a Power Five program in a bowl game, and had to win to bring the MAC to its first winning bowl season since 2011. Minnesota came in at 5-7 and rallied behind Coach Tracey Claeys and former coach Jerry Kill, who was an honorary captain for the game.

Three freshman running backs lit up the field in this game, as CMU’s Romello Ross (23 total touches, 128 total yards, one rushing touchdown) and Minnesota’s Shannon Brooks (19 total touches, 110 total yards) and Rodney Smith (16 total touches, 81 yards) led the offenses, while Briean Boddy-Calhoun made what was ultimately the game-sealing interception as CMU was driving in an intense 21-14 Gopher win.

Minnesota linebacker Jonathan Celestin (13) closes in on Central Michigan running back Romello Ross during the first half of the Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Detroit.

Photo: Carlos Osorio, AP

Mitch Leinder (24 of 30, 223 yards, one touchdown, one interception), won game MVP honors on a night when defenses generally won the day, preventing big plays and forcing both sides to get creative with how they scored.

An argument that’s often overheard about minor bowl games is that no one attends them, but Ford Field’s lower bowls were essentially full of two different shades of both maroon and gold in a stadium that seats 64,000 people, and they were extremely engaged.

The fans cheered on participants of media timeout games like it was 4th and goal at the 1-yard line, and CMU managed to win “The Battle of the Hot Dogs”, fans purchased unique hot dogs to reflect each school’s culture, by a wide margin. Before and after the game, fans were able to interact with Ryan Blaney’s Quick Lane NASCAR ride and have a meet and greet with the driver of Monster Jam’s “Avenger.”

The Quick Lane Bowl was also tied to a handful of charities this season, with both the Michigan Humane Society and the Disabled American Veterans coming on as charitable sponsors.

The Michigan Humane Society donated a proceed of their tickets to helping animals find new, caring homes, while tickets purchased through keepthepromise.org donated $10 to the DAV to help thousands of disabled veterans find a support system that understands their needs. The Ford Family, which owns the Lions and Ford Field, donated $50,000 to the DAV during the game as well, and honored both past and present military veterans throughout the game.

To say that a bowl game (or a set of bowl games) don’t matter is like saying that the American flag isn’t red, white, and blue.

It dismisses the essential nature of not only the sport, but what these bowls do outside of the four hours we dedicate to watching each game per day. There are the emotions of watching your school fight for something with meaning, the palpable tension of waiting for the next big play throughout the game and the charitable and economic impact of such games on the cities they play in.

The Cure Bowl in Orlando, dismissed as an on-the-field matchup, raised over $1,000,000 for breast cancer research. The Pinstripe Bowl, which pitted Indiana and Duke, two average football teams against each other, outrated a Duke-UNC overtime basketball game.

I was in the stadium with my cousin Jacob, who got to visit Ford Field for the first time in his 23 years on Monday, and he was swept away by how much passion the crowd had and how intense the action that was happening in front of us was—even in what ended up being a heartbreaking loss for my alma mater.

Even a casual football fan such as him understood what the impact of the game was and could feel how much games like this meant to those fans. Jake was so swept up, he stood and cheered for CMU along with tens of thousands of others and screamed his heart out, despite not being an alum. To see the happiness on Minnesota fans’ faces despite a losing record, to see CMU play for the win in front of a de facto home crowd in the final seconds after a late mistake…that is the essence of bowl season.

Minor bowl games do matter, and the Quick Lane Bowl is certainly very indicative of why that is.

***

Today’s U donated two tickets to the DAV for the Quick Lane Bowl, and this post is part of our involvement in the Quick Lane Preferrred Blogger Program. While the Quick Lane Bowl provided materials for us to donate and notes to write with, all views expressed are mine.

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