It was a day of family, food and football as the Stanford Cardinal took on the Pitt Panthers in El Paso’s 85th Annual Sun Bowl Game. The energy was high, both on the field and in the stands.
Out in the parking lot, before the game, the connection of community, both local and from afar, was everywhere.
This was my first time covering the Sun Bowl, and only the second Sun Bowl game I’ve ever been to. I decided to go out and discover what people like best about the city and the game.
No matter who I spoke to, there was one common theme – El Paso is a great city with great people.
The Villarreal family, all Stanford alums, were out to show their support for both their school, their team, and the city of El Paso.
“Well, the Sun Bowl is, you know, it’s our marquee event,” says Jose Louis Villarreal of El Paso. “Growing up here, it’s a matter of pride to showcase the city.”
For Jose he attends every Sun Bowl game Stanford has ever played in, beginning in 1977 when he was only in the sixth grade. He’s also attended a total of 30 Sun Bowl games!
“Both things run in my blood, Stanford and the Sun Bowl, and it’s just a great day,” said Jose. “The Sun Bowl has a reputation of being the most hospitable bowl,” says Jose. “Stanford has been to other higher tier bowls, and they say there is no comparison to the way they’re treated here.”
“First time at the Sun Bowl, first time in El Paso,” says Jeff Gamza of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “It’s a beautiful area.”
Before today’s game, he spent three days in El Paso, and what stands out to him?
“The landscape and all the mountains,” said Jeff. “This is a beautiful area.” He also spoke of the people and the fan fiesta.
“People of El Paso have been very friendly,” he said. “The Sun Bowl committee has done a great job here. The fan fiesta was great; it was open to the entire public for free. They had some great stuff there for the kids and the families. It was a great time.”
Lynn and Matt Watson made the trip to the Sun Bowl from Claysville, Pennsylvania.
“We are huge Pitt fans, we’ve been at every Pitt game since he was six-weeks-old,” said Lynn Watson as she pointed to her son Matt, who is not seventeen years old.
Matt will be graduating from high school soon and will be heading off to college not long after. What does he want to do?
“I’m not sure yet,” says Matt, “but probably something to do with sports.”
Don Barr, who is originally from Pennsylvania, and now lives in Phoenix came to El Paso to cheer on Pitt.
“I love everything about Pitt, we’re very close to Pitt,” says Don. “I like the basketball, especially when they were in the Big East, now they are in the ACC. We’ve always been Pittsburg Fans.”
Barr added that Pitt has played one of the toughest football schedules in their division. “At one point they played about seven teams that were in the top twenty,” said Don.
Patricia and Doug have a daughter in the Pitt Marching Band. “She’s a senior,” said Patricia as Doug said they were so proud of her.
“And we love El Paso,” said Patricia. “People are so friendly here. Every Uber we’ve taken has been wonderful.” This was their first time in El Paso and Texas.
For everyone who came from out of town, they could not stop talking about how friendly El Paso is, or how much they loved the food – even Chico’s Tacos.
As I continued to walk through the crowds, talking to people, they were just amazed that El Paso is as friendly as it is. Then, there are those, like the Villarreal family, who are from El Paso, who’ve made the Sun Bowl game a family tradition.
“We always come to the Sun Bowl,” says Ray Lopez. “It’s our tradition,” says his wife, Cynthia.
The Lopez family has been to at least fifteen games they say. Who are they cheering for? Let me tell you; their answer was one of the best I’ve ever heard.
“We are only going for Stanford ‘cuz we have our annual tickets that we pay for,” says Cynthia Lopez. “We’re right next to the band. So, whoever’s on our side, that’s who we root for, who I root for.”
Then there is the food. In every parking lot, there are people who’ve brought out the grills and began cooking. I was treated to everything today, from hamburgers to burritos. But the best ones came from Carl Townsend.
“We have about 20-25 people that we tailgate at the Sun Bowl every year,” said Carl Townsend. “I try to make what I call the world’s best burritos.”
Let me tell you, they were made from smoked filet mignon and they literally melt in your mouth!
“I’ve been to probably the last twenty-five in a row,” said Carl Townsend, talking about how many Sun Bowl games he’s attended. “Sometimes we have really good games; sometimes we don’t. But you know what? We always have a good time.”
“It’s a very positive image for the city of El Paso,” said Carl of the Sun Bowl. “We have the best weather in the United States. We are a progressive town, a good town. It’s seen nationally.”
He was rooting for Pitt, as he is originally from the mid-west. But there was a bit more behind his decision.
“Stanford, their top boys, don’t like to show up, so I root for the Pitt Panthers,” he said.
It was about this time that I caught up with Drew, a member of the Stanford band.
“This is my first time in El Paso,” said Drew. “It’s beautiful. I’ve never been in a desert like this before; I don’t really know if this is a desert. It’s beautiful, and the people are really nice.”
Now, if you’ve never seen the Stanford Marching Band before, I don’t know what to tell you. They are a band that has as much fun as humanly possible.
“They are fun,” says Aubrey, a ten-year-old from Pittsburgh. “It’s not boring when they play.”
She’s right, and Drew agrees.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Drew. “It’s a good way to express ourselves, a good way to just have a good time on campus. I love it. We rock out every day.”
I also spoke with Brad Townsend, the band director for Pitt. Ten years and twelve years ago he was at the Sun Bowl when he was with Oregon State.
“I like, it’s just a big event,” said Brad. “Everybody in town is so into it and so appreciative of the teams being here.”
Those fans, the people from El Paso, from out of town, this game is big. Even if you are Robles, an excited four-years-old, who is attending his first Sun Bowl. His dad has attended the past four Sun Bowl games. What does he like best?
“The excitement, the marching bands, battling it out. Everybody hitting hard on the field,” said Robles. “A good family environment.”
What does he say to those who have never attended a Sun Bowl game before?
“You’ll see a great game, a lively game,” said Robles. “The two teams are going to play very hard, all the way to the fourth quarter. You’re going to see two great marching bands. Very loud and thunderous. It’s just an excellent atmosphere.”
Simi Fehoko, wide receiver for Stanford, who took a two-year break from football to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Korea made his bowl debut today.
It’s been good; it’s been fun this whole week of games and events. People are very nice,” said Simi. “Football is big in Texas. We went to the mall the other day, and everybody was stopping us, ‘oh, you play football for Stanford,’ it was just awesome.”
To sum it up, the one thing almost everyone had to say was that this is an amazing game, a tradition that continues. For those who came
from out of town, they simply couldn’t believe how friendly everyone is.
El Paso is, as I’ve discovered through the eyes of visitors, an amazing place.