The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics.
Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways so this week he talks about The First Bowl game.
In December 2005, USF football players, coaches and staff were preparing for another program first. The first bowl game for the Bulls was about to happen, and it would occur after only nine seasons of football. Fittingly enough, our first venture into the post season would be the 100th game in USF football history.
As remarkable as that was, the first bowl game really should have happened even earlier. We had been painfully close twice.
In 2002, USF went 9-2, with the only losses on the road at Arkansas and Oklahoma. Any other year, that’s a bowl game.
Maybe a big one.
But in 2002 USF was still waiting to get in to Conference USA, and as an independent, getting any bowl bid was tough.
It came down that year to a strange quirk of fate. USF had a provisional offer to play a bowl game in Hawaii, but needed Cincinnati to lose to East Carolina. An ECU win would send USF to a bowl game in just their sixth year of existence. It was a difficult situation, having to depend on the outcome of another game; almost like scoreboard watching in a baseball pennant race. All you can do is hope.
We got ready, in case things worked out. Some promotional pieces were created. Ticket information was readied and budgets were prepared. If Hawaii would have us, we were going.
Unfortunately, East Carolina and Cincinnati didn’t cooperate. Cincinnati won (Skip Holtz wasn’t at ECU yet to help us) and the Bulls, with their 9-2 record, stayed home.
Next year was almost as tough. 7-4 and no bowl bid.
Click to see game program
Now, USF was positioned for post season play again in 2005. Ironically, our record wasn’t quite as good this time; 6-4 with a home game against West Virginia remaining. The conference alignment was the difference. We were in the Big East by this time, and the bowl opportunities were both better and more plentiful. The bottom line was, as we prepared for the last game of the 2005 regular season, we knew we were going somewhere, win or lose. The most intriguing option was the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., against an ACC team.
That night’s game didn’t turn out as we hoped, as West Virginia beat USF 28-13, leaving us 6-5. Now, in order to get to Charlotte, we had to wait for the finish of the Connecticut/Louisville game. A Connecticut win and we went to the Meineke; a Louisville win and we would still go to a bowl game but in a still to be determined location.
If you’re ever curious about unsettled bowl scenarios as the season winds down, just look for what bowl reps are attending what games in the last week of the season. There will always be someone there to make the “official announcement” at game’s end. I remember the year we played in the St. Petersburg Bowl, we finished the regular season at West Virginia. Before the game, I ran in to the St. Petersburg Bowl representative, shivering in the cold with the rest of us in Morgantown. Since it seemed like an unlikely vacation destination for him, we pretty much knew what was up, and the official invitation came that night.
For that reason, we were glad to see George Johnson in town. He was the Meineke rep, and about 25 minutes after the game ended, he performed his small but important role in USF football history.
During those 25 minutes, I remember wandering through a lengthy post game radio show, essentially killing time on the air waiting for UConn to polish off Louisville and get us to Charlotte.
Finally they did, and that put George Johnson center stage. Standing next to Athletic Director Doug Woolard, it was George that told the team they were officially invited to Charlotte for their first bowl game. Although his announcement came in a closed locker room, the moment was preserved on tape and is on the USF Football 10 year DVD that was completed the following year.
The pregame coin toss, which George Foreman did attend.
So it was Charlotte. We’d face North Carolina State on New Year’s Eve 2005, exactly four weeks from the announcement.
As Bulls fans know, USF has now been to five consecutive bowl games. Maybe it’s because it was the first, but Charlotte remains my favorite bowl experience, even though we fell short in the game.
Before game day, USF held a pep rally in downtown Charlotte. I remember two things about it. First of all, Meineke spokesman George Foreman was supposed to show up and didn’t (probably off grilling something somewhere). Secondly, of far more importance, was the number of Bulls fans in attendance. Our public address announcer Jason Loughren and I worked that event on stage, and I’ll never forget looking out over downtown Charlotte and seeing Bulls fans packed in to the pep rally area. Thousands of them.
Since that day, we’ve seen that happen at other bowl games and in Tallahassee and Gainesville, but in 2005, seeing that much green and gold in a city hundreds of miles from home made me realize that we had arrived. It was the first time the Bulls showed they could “travel”, a key component of receiving bowl bids.
I was brought back down to earth a bit on game day at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers, when a very pleasant security person mentioned that we must be “excited to be playing in an NFL facility today”.
Yes indeed, quite a thrill there, sir.
But even though some people still had some things to learn about our program, Charlotte on Dec. 31, 2005 was a day the nation started to get just a little more familiar with USF football, and in a very positive way.