San Diego or bust

The rumors proved true on Saturday when John Reid, executive director of the Holiday Bowl, and Weldon Donaldson, chairman of the team selection committee, made their long-awaited announcement. The Tigers will play in the Holiday Bowl.

"I think this is a tribute to the University of Missouri program, our coach Larry Smith and the quality of our performance," said Athletic Director Joe Castiglione. "We gladly accept this invitation."

Kansas State was selected by the bowl alliance to play Syracuse in the Fiesta Bowl. That sent Texas A&M to the Cotton Bowl and paved the way for MU's invitation to San Diego. Had the alliance not selected Kansas State, the Holiday Bowl would have taken Texas A&M, and MU would have gone to the Alamo Bowl.

Smith and his team watched the bowl alliance's announcements on television in the team meeting room before coming to the Alumni Center.

"When they announced Kansas State, our whole football team jumped up and started cheering," Smith said. "That's the first time I think that our team has cheered for Kansas State."

Chancellor Richard Wallace joined Castiglione, team captains Brock Olivo and Brian Cracraft, Smith and MU football seniors to accept the invitation.

"MU has had many proud moments over its long history," Wallace said. "Today has to mark one of its proudest. We return to a bowl game for the first time since 1983."

Olivo shared the chancellor's sentiments.

"On behalf of the team, I think I can say that this is probably the proudest moment of our lives," Olivo said.

Except for some running and weight-lifting, the team has been taking a break since they defeated Baylor on Nov. 15.

"We begin all-out football practice this Thursday on stop day, take Friday off for final exams, then we'll come back and practice Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon," Smith said. "I'm not worried about rekindling the fire right now. I think the bottom line is we have to make sure we have our football legs back underneath us."

Although the team and coaches have yet to look at Colorado State, they at least have a team to focus on.

"Before we were playing a ghost team," Olivo said. "We didn't know what defense to prepare for or what offense to prepare for. Now we can just focus everything on that team."

Many students and local MU fans had hoped for a bid to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, where more fans could afford to attend. Although still excited about the team's success and pending bowl appearance, some students expressed their concern about the distance.

"It's unfortunate that it's so far away that not a lot of the students who would like to go can afford the $500 cost of attending," said freshman Matt Sameck. "Still, I'm excited that the team has been invited [to a bowl game]."

Despite the cost, Smith and his team are urging fans and students to be on hand for the game in San Diego.

"Everybody calls this the Show-me state, that's what I've been told," Smith said. "Well, the head football coach is saying 'Show-me.' The team is saying 'Show-me.' Get your tails to San Diego and support this football team at this bowl."

The players also challenged fans to make the trek to southern California.

"I would like to send out some invitations as well, to every Missouri Tiger fan alive," Olivo said. "I know Don Faurot will be there with us, so you guys can make it too."

For their part, San Diego and the Holiday Bowl promise to be gracious hosts.

"We cannot wait to have the Tigers come to San Diego with all their fans, followers, supporters and alumni," Reid said. "We're looking forward to seeing you there where it's going to be 72 [degrees] and clear."

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