How much different will Washington’s bowl experience be this year than it was in 2015?
Let’s just say the Heart of Dallas Bowl didn’t fly its CEO to Seattle for a press conference with UW’s head coach and athletic director more than two weeks before the game.
But these are the spoils of No. 4 Washington’s national playoff semifinal matchup against No. 1 Alabama in the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Dec. 31. And Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan made clear during Tuesday’s event that the bowl’s staff goes out of its way to assure a memorable experience for every player involved, promising “Southern hospitality” and a philosophy of “live, laugh and learn.”
“The players are going to live great,” Stokan said. “They’re going to stay in a beautiful hotel. They’re going to go to great events. They’re going to get great gifts. They’re going to eat great food, like Chick-fil-A (the game’s seemingly omnipresent title sponsor). They’re going to play in great facilities. They’re going to live really, really good that week.”
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The teams will also have daily competitions — go-karts, basketball, bowling, Family Feud and milkshake-making — in what the Peach Bowl calls “the battle for bowl week,” with a 30-pound, wrestling-style championship belt going to the winner.
Stokan said players from each team will visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church — where Dr. Martin Luther King was once co-pastor — and hear from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and the famed minister and author C.T. Vivian, both key figures in the civil rights movement.
Players will also visit patients at a local children’s hospital.
“To see these big guys come in and spend some time to make those kids’ day for an hour is really, really special during the Christmas season,” Stokan said.
Stokan described the game as “the most significant college football game ever played in Atlanta … until next year, when we host the national championship game in Atlanta.”
UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen said she did not have an exact estimate on how many tickets the school had sold of its allotment of 13,000, but said the school just opened up sales on Tuesday to non-season ticket holders and expects to sell out by the end of the week. The athletic department’s official Twitter account noted Tuesday night that a “limited quantity” of tickets were still available for $175 each.
UW and Alabama were each given an allotment of 13,000 tickets. All remaining tickets, which were available through the Peach Bowl, have sold out. The Georgia Dome’s football capacity is 71,250.
UW coach Chris Petersen has taken a realistic, humorous approach to discussing the challenge presented by the top-ranked Crimson Tide, who are currently favored by 15 to 17 points in Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Petersen joked on Tuesday that UW is “extremely excited to be going, (but) we’re not so thrilled about the matchup,” and joked last week that he might have the Huskies scrimmage against the Seattle Seahawks to prepare for the caliber of opponent they will face in Atlanta.
Alabama, Petersen said, is “probably the best college team I’ve seen. So what can you do but keep humor about it? … There’s no players, like, ‘Well, he’s a freshman …’ If he’s a freshman, he’s a freshman All-American (and) a whatever-star recruit. They’re good. They’re coached well. And the thing that I’m as impressed with (as) anything in that program is how they recruit.
“They get great talent, and then (coach Nick Saban) does a great job with the culture of their program — playing hard and all those things. There’s no weaknesses, you know. But that’s OK. It’s going to challenge us to be at our best and see what we look like when we’re at our best, and where we are in our evolution of playing against the best.”
UW will receive $2 million from the Peach Bowl to cover travel expenses, and the Pac-12 will receive another $4 million to distribute evenly among the member schools. … The Huskies leave for Atlanta on Christmas Day, and will split their practice time between the Georgia Dome and Georgia State University. … Petersen reiterated that injured linebackers Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor will not play in the game.