SAN JOSE, Calif. » After the game that changed college football, maybe forever, a proud Boise State alumnus, a beaming former Western Athletic Conference star athlete and their entourage searched Glendale, Ariz., together for a place to celebrate.
They had stayed for the awards ceremony and news conference following the Broncos' 43-42 overtime victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's night, and didn't get back to their hotel until 1:30 a.m. The bar was closed.
"I called a couple of my staff to join us, and I think we might have hit the mini-bar in my room a little," said WAC commissioner Karl Benson, the Boise State graduate.
One of his companions at the game was Hawaii athletic director Herman Frazier, who smoked his college track and field competition three decades earlier; he was at Arizona State when the Sun Devils were in the WAC.
"You could tell he wasn't going to sleep," Frazier said of Benson. "After everything he'd been through, the breakup of the conference, going to a lot of those meetings with the big conferences and perhaps feeling snubbed on many occasions ... There was a lot of elation, jubilation and vindication for Karl."
The Broncos' slingshot produced the wildest upset in college sports since Virginia and the rest of the world learned that yes, there is a Chaminade.
Seven months after the Fiesta Bowl, with the trophies showcased and the payout checks accounted for, the WAC continues to reap dividends ... as well as a cross or two to bear.
Right now the bennies are in the form of exposure. The WAC Media Preview here has attracted an unprecedented array of national reporters. Then again, this is the first time the conference has two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates, in UH's Colt Brennan and BSU's Ian Johnson. And they play for two potential preseason Top 25 teams.
The irony is that the success of the Warriors, who went 11-3 last year, including a 41-24 Hawaii Bowl victory over Frazier's alma mater, now of the Pac-10, and Broncos, makes it even harder for them to schedule games, especially against big-name schools. As a result, Brennan and Johnson have fewer opportunities to make their cases, and UH will have to rely in part on circumstantial evidence, even if it wins all its games in its bid to be this year's BSU.
Like Hawaii, Boise State and Fresno State are playing just 12 games when they could play 13 -- if they could find someone to do it, preferably as a visitor.
"Ask Herm. It's hard as heck," Broncos coach Chris Petersen said. "We don't always just want to go to someone else's house. We want them to come back and play us at our place. But it's easier said than done."
Frazier realized too late how difficult it is, and ended up with two Division I-AA opponents and a puka that could've been filled by a marquee road game to showcase Brennan and be the signature nonconference win.
Benson spoke yesterday of the Pac-10 agreeing to provide a team to play the WAC team that makes most sense (most times Hawaii) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in 2008 and 2009, and said a future contract would probably include the west's premier conference against the league he considers a firm No. 2 now, his own WAC (way above the deserters of the Mountain West).
The bad news from the Pac-10 is that its new policy of nine conference games a season instead of eight takes away 10 opportunities for WAC teams to play big-name opponents.
Later yesterday morning, Brennan and Johnson did their best to sell themselves, their teams and their conference to reporters, some with a national audience.
They were clearly the prime attractions -- a new angle for the WAC, which at previous events like this had to rely more on the star power of coaches like June Jones, Pat Hill, Dick Tomey and one-year wonders Dennis Erickson and Mike Price.
"We elected to do something different. Showcasing those two players, but at the same time showcasing other players who were returning as well as our outstanding coaches," Benson said. "And the Fiesta Bowl."