Houston and San Diego State both aspired to play in bigger bowl games this season, but players and coaches from each Group of Five school will literally be flying high in the days leading up to the 25th Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Shortly after the teams arrive late Tuesday afternoon at their respective hotels (the Cougars at Mandalay Bay/Delano, the Aztecs at the Hard Rock), the coaches will be treated to a night flight over The Strip by Maverick Helicopters.
“Every one of the coaches said that’s one of the coolest experiences they’ve had at a bowl game,” Las Vegas Bowl executive director John Saccenti said.
While it’s not feasible to take every player on a helicopter ride, the players will find themselves 550 feet in the air here Thursday night, when the teams take turns riding The LINQ High Roller.
The events are all part of Bowl Week, which will officially kick off in Las Vegas on Wednesday with a team welcome reception at the Fremont Street Experience.
Other events free and open to the public include a pep rally Friday night on Fremont Street and a Cox pregame fan fest Saturday morning at Star Nursery Fields near Sam Boyd Stadium.
Fans also can purchase tickets to attend a kickoff luncheon on Friday at the Hard Rock Hotel that will feature broadcaster Brent Musburger, former player Marshawn Lynch and founder Rob Dondero getting inducted into the Las Vegas Bowl Hall of Fame. Saccenti said former California star running back Lynch is expected to attend the luncheon and told him he’s excited about the honor.
“He won’t get fined if he doesn’t talk,” Saccenti quipped.
The Cougars and Aztecs also will visit Opportunity Village on Wednesday and take part in a Goodie Two Shoes Foundation charity event at CP Squires Elementary School on Thursday.
The teams will practice Wednesday and Thursday (Houston at Bishop Gorman and San Diego State at UNLV) before doing walk-throughs at Sam Boyd on Friday.
This is actually the second week of Las Vegas Bowl events. The matchup was announced Dec. 4 at Topgolf and Saccenti — accompanied by showgirls and an Elvis impersonator — traveled to Houston on Thursday and to San Diego State on Saturday to formally present invitations to each team and treat the players to gift suites.
NCAA rules allow bowl games to give gifts valued up to $500 to each player and Saccenti said the Las Vegas Bowl was one of the first bowls to follow the lead of the Sugar Bowl in setting up gift suites, where players can choose from an array of products. GoPros and leather recliners proved popular this year.
“In Houston, hands down, the most popular item was the reclining movie chair,” Saccenti said.
The official invitation, created by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority a few years ago, is etched into the bottom of a shadow box containing decommissioned lightbulbs from the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign.
Saccenti, with Elvis and the showgirls by his side, presented the official Aztecs invite to running back Donnel Pumphrey, a Canyon Springs High School product, on Saturday at halftime of San Diego State’s men’s basketball game against Arizona State.
After rushing for 110 yards against Wyoming in the Mountain West championship game, Pumphrey became the NCAA’s No. 2 career rusher behind Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne with 6,290 yards and needs 108 yards Saturday to become the NCAA’s official all-time leading rusher.
Saccenti said he jokingly told Pumphrey before the Wyoming game to wait until the Las Vegas Bowl to break the record.
“He was saying he had 200 in him at Laramie,” Saccenti said. “I said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to do it, can you do it at our game?’”