By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl features a myriad of activities, from charity events to various parties, and puts on one heck of a parade. The football game itself, which features No. 4 Stanford and No. 3 Oklahoma State in what many feel will be an old-fashioned western shootout among two of the nation's top quarterbacks, represents the culmination of a year's worth of preparation.
"It's not just a football game," said Matt Winter, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Fiesta Bowl. "It's a festival of college football."
With a city like Tempe, Ariz., which knows how to party, the festival lasts seemingly weeks. In fact, the Fiesta Bowl brings two bowl games into the limelight. The Insight Bowl, the undercard if you will, pits Iowa and Oklahoma on Friday, Dec. 30 at Sun Devil Stadium.
Tempe hosts a Block Party on New Year's Eve and the Stanford Alumni Association is planning several events centered in and around Tempe.
Other hosted parties include the Insight Big Huddle, Fiesta Bowl's College Football's Biggest Party and the Fiesta Bowl Stadium Club.
"It is a great honor, and it will be a tremendous challenge for us," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "This was the goal when we got here four years ago with Coach (Jim) Harbaugh. It really was to establish, first of all, a tough team and establish a team that can compete at the highest level."
The Cardinal (11-1) and Cowboys (11-1) line up a few miles west at the University of Phoenix Bowl in Glendale on Monday, Jan. 2, with a scheduled 5:30 p.m. kickoff (PST).
"We're as excited as you could possibly be," Winter said. "The interesting thing will be watching the two offenses. I hope for a high score and a great finish."
Oklahoma State, with its no-huddle offense, and Stanford, with its reliance on Andrew Luck in both the running and passing game, will certainly feel fast-paced.
"We try to play as fast as we can and more spread out and don't use fullbacks and tight ends as much as what would be a traditional offense," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "We like the up-tempo, and we've had success with it. And our players enjoy competing in our system."
The Cardinal suffered its lone loss of the season to Oregon's no-huddle offense.
"Oregon is a little different. The speed on the field and the speed with which the plays get run is about the closest thing, but the schemes are different and the quarterback as a runner is a different dimension for Oregon," Shaw said. "That's the thing that gets you. You have to be able to line up quickly and have all 11 guys on defense ready to play because they will snap in a heartbeat."
Phoenix, which lies between Tempe and Glendale, hosts the parade (Arizona Diamondbacks' manager Kirk Gibson was named Grand Marshall) on New Year's Eve, beginning at 11 a.m. near the intersection of Bethany Home Road and Central Ave. The finish line is near 7th Street and Minnesota Ave.
"The parade attracts up to 200,000 people along the route," Winter said.
The favored breakfast eatery of media types remains Chompies, a few blocks east of the Arizona State campus on University. Dinner spots are many and include favorites Richardson's Cuisine of New Mexico at 6335 North 16th Street in Phoenix and Carlsbad Tavern on Hayden Road in Scottsdale and The Roaring Fork on Scottsdale Ave., also in Scottsdale.
Stanford begins serious preparations for the contest on Monday, with finals out of the way. The athletes will pretty much have the Stanford campus to themselves until it's time to depart for Arizona on the day after Christmas.
"We practiced twice during the week to get them running around," Shaw said. "It was a big week academically. We've made some general game plans in meetings with the coaches. Now we will start to ramp it up."
Luck completed a whirlwind tour of the nation last weekend, collecting hardware in some cities and finishing second in others.
He was named the Walter Camp Player of the Year, and offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro joined him on the first team. Luck also was presented the Maxwell Trophy for Most Outstanding Player.
Luck was named CoSIDA's Academic All-American of the Year for Football, carrying a 3.48 GPA as an architectural design major, and was honored with the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He was a finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award and Heisman Trophy, each time finishing second to Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
"He's just been everything that we've needed him to be," Shaw said. "First and foremost, from the leadership standpoint, he's a lead-by-example kind of guy. We put a lot on him mentally. We put a lot on him physically, which is what we need from him.
"He's got all those tools and all the skills that you look for in a quarterback," Shaw added. "And right on top, with everything else, is that he's an absolute competitor who loves the game and loves when the game is on the line and loves when the ball is in his hands.
"Andrew doesn't even like all that awards stuff," Shaw said. "It's good for him to get the recognition though, the pats on the back."
Even better would be another bowl game victory to cap a second straight 12-1 season, a remarkable 24-2 two-year run and fittingly send Luck off to the NFL with his legacy firmly secured in Stanford football history.