As the Sun Bowl is being prepared for this weekend's new battle of I-10 vs UTSA, UTEP will celebrate the 50th birthday of the prized jewel of El Paso. Back in 1963 Texas-Western built the then 30,000 seat stadium, which was funded by a $1.5 million bond that the El Paso County voters approved.
Here we are 50 years later, and it still remains one of the best and unique venues to watch a college football game. Some of the best college players during their time stepped foot on what is a hallowed ground of football in this city. Future NFL stars, big name coaches, big name college programs, and even my beloved Oakland Raiders have banged helmets with the Dallas Cowboys in the Sun Bowl.
Nestled neatly on the foothills of the Franklin Mountains on El Paso's westside, the Sun Bowl has also been home to top notch non-football acts, such as the performances by Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. To this day my mom and aunts still rave about how great that Pink Floyd show was.
Oscar De La Hoya also sold out the Sun Bowl back in 1998. He KO'd some scrub in the third round, but to most at the time it was a pretty big deal. The self proclaimed "Golden Boy" was in his prime and made El Paso a boxing town.
The UTEP football era in the Sun Bowl started exactly 50 years ago on this date. Larry Durham would be a name UTEP fans would remember forever, as he took a handoff on the first ever play from scrimmage on the Sun Bowl turf 54 yards for the first touchdown against North Texas.
The beautiful football facility located behind the south endzone, which includes the Miners' locker room, a world class weight room, and a Human Performance lab, is named after the Miner legend.
That same 1963 UTEP team will be honored at Saturdays game, as a new era of Miner football will look to mark their stamp in Sun Bowl history.
The Miners have played 280 games in the Sun Bowl, with the largest crowd to watch the Miners play coming back in 2008, when the University of Texas and UTEP battled in front of 53,415. When the bowl is packed, it makes for one of the toughest road challenges in C-USA and all of college football of that.
My most memorable Miner moment in the Sun Bowl was back in 2004. UTEP was ranked and played a double OT thriller vs Rice in the pouring rain. It was freezing cold, and current Miner DB coach Robert Rodriguez recovered a fumble to end the game. I was 14 at the time and still remember that game to this day.
Elder Miner fans will almost certainly remember the 1985 Miners. Defending National Champion BYU came into the Sun Bowl ranked 7th in the nation at the time, but the Miners would go on to upset the Cougars and the Miner Maniacs of 1985 would go on to tear down both goal posts and dispose them over the walls of the Sun Bowl.
Back in 2000, the Miners would break a 44 year conference championship drought. 53,304 Miner fans packed the Sun Bowl and watched the Miners win the WAC. Fans stormed the field and it was 1985 all over again as the goal posts would be ore down and thrown over again.
Classic battles with Texas Tech, ECU, the numerous shootouts with Houston (58-41 upset in 2008!!), Rice, and SMU, the crowd pleasing formation of the Mine Shaft, 58-13 whooping of UCF when the Miners were heavy underdogs in the SB, Mike Price's emotional last game as UTEP head coach, and last years packed house vs Oklahoma are the recent good times.
And of course you cant forget about the long standing annual Sun Bowl game. NFL legends Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders stared for Oklahoma State in 1987. Tony Dorsett led Pitt to a Sun Bowl berth and W in 1975, and even Bill Walsh roamed the Sun Bowl sidelines back in 1977 when Stanford defeated LSU.
Great names of college football and classic dogfights have packed the stands over the years. Alabama v Army 1988, Michigan State v USC 1990, Wisconsin v UCLA 2000, Oklahoma v Stanford 2009, Miami v Notre Dame 2010 just to name a few.
Other notable stars to play and coach in the Sun Bowl include: Nebraska's Coach Tom Osborne, Carson Palmer, Ladanian Tomlinson, and even Barry Switzer has been a part of the festivities.
The beautiful layout, and rich history of college football makes the Sun Bowl a true American Treasure. As fans and El Pasoans, we should fill it up with every opportunity.
Remember these? More recent UTEP games that go down as some of the best in Sun Bowl history:
October 3, 2009 - UTEP vs. Houston - "BCS - Bubble - Buster"
In the 2009 season, the Houston Cougars entered the year with high hopes, ending 2008 with a couple of wins over top 25 teams and returning C-USA offensive player of the year Case Keenum. Despite not being ranked in the preseason polls they quickly busted in to them after a week 2 win at then #5 Oklahoma State. After a week 3 bye, the Cougars then knocked off Texas Tech at home, and at 3-0 were vaulted up to #12 in the nation. The sky (BCS) was the limit. That is, until they entered the Sun Bowl. The Miners entered off a 64-7 drubbing at the hands of Texas, but they would rebound nicely against the Cougars as they scored at will in the second half, and ran away with it 58-41. UTEP running back Donald Buckram ended the night with 262 yards rushing.
September 27th, 2008 - UTEP vs. UCF - "Martinez Nails it From 64"
In 2008, defending Conference USA champion UCF entered the Sun Bowl off tough back to back losses to South Florida and Boston College. Unfortunately for them, things would only be getting worse. UTEP laid the wood, rolling to a 58-13 win. The big news was though, UTEP kicker Jose Martinez' 64 yard field goal heading into the half. After missing tries of 66 and 65 earlier in the year, Martinez knocked through the second longest field goal (without a tee) in NCAA history.
September 9th, 2006 - UTEP vs. Texas Tech - "Johnny Lee Goes Off"
In Mike Price's 3rd year at the helm, the Miners welcomed Texas Tech with Graham Harrell, Danny Amendola, and former El Pasoan Ed Britton into the Sun Bowl. The two teams battled for four quarters, and wound up tied at 35 after regulation. A Jordan Palmer deflected pass was intercepted on the Miners' overtime possession, and Tech kicker Alex Trlica banked a 49 yarder off the post to seal the 38-35 win. Jonny Lee Higgins had 13 receptions for 162 yards and 2 touchdowns in the loss.
September 16th, 2005 - UTEP vs. Houston - "Demps Seals the Deal"
In 2005, the Miners' first year in Conference USA, high flying Houston entered the Sun Bowl in week 2 of the season. The Miners fell behind early, but this one would turn into a shootout as the two teams turned in 85 points and over 1,000 yards of combined total offense. Fittingly, the game went into overtime at 41 apiece, and after a UTEP field goal on the opening possession, Miner hero and current Kansas City Chief Quentin Demps intercepted a Kevin Kolb pass as the 2 yard line that sealed the win.
November 11th, 2000 - UTEP vs. Rice - "44 Years"
In 2000, the Miners were 44 years removed from their last conference title, and 12 years removed from even their last winning season. But, after a 1-2 start, they reeled off seven straight wins, including that one on November 11th against Rice, and guaranteed themselves at least a share of the WAC crown. After trailing early, Miner greats like Rocky Perez, Lee Mays, and Brian Natkin led them to an impressive 38-21 victory in front of better than 53,000. Needless to say, those goal posts didn't survive.
Those are just a few of the most memorable games in the Sun Bowl's history. What are your top games and memories of the Sun Bowl, Miner Nation?