BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
DETROIT-As I drove to Ford Field for the Motor City Bowl on Friday, December 26 2008, I experienced the strangest feeling.
This was the first time I’ve ever attended a Detroit sporting event as a member of the visiting media.
Leading up to the game, Owls QB Rusty Smith and many of his teammates never saw snow. They’ve never gone sledding, had a snow ball fight or built a snowman.
Four and a half hours before kickoff, I went to Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Royal Oak, MI., to visit my great grandparents, both sets of grandparents along with my close cousin Terry Kroll who died at the age of 32.
Terry’s grave along with my mother’s parents had snow up to my knees. I found myself digging to find their foot stones and got snow inside my shoes, on my socks and pants.
I told all seven people that the Motor City Bowl would be like no other event that I’ve ever covered in 29 years in the media. Ironically, on December 26, 1982, my Great Grandfather Morris Kroll (88) died and this was his 26th anniversary.
In the pre-game press conferences leading up to the game, Smith was elated to spend a White Christmas in Detroit because he had never seen snow. On this day, I could have used Smith to help me find the foot stones. Instead of throwing snowballs, Smith threw for 307 yards including two-second half touchdowns to lead the Owls to a 24-21 win over Central Michigan University (CMU) in front of 41,399 fans, a huge home field advantage for the Chippewas. Smith went on to win the Motor City Bowl MVP Award and enabled his Coach Howard Schnellenberger improve to 6-0 in Bowl Games.
FAU finished the season 7-6 and 2-0 when I wear my Orange long sleeve polo shirt, Green jeans and Beige shoes. This was the same outfit that I wore when the Owls defeated FIU 57-50 at Dolphin Stadium in November which made them bowl eligible.
At the post-game press conference, my Detroit colleague George Eichorn had a chance to meet Schnellenberger, Smith, Frantz Joseph, who was named the games most valuable lineman and running back Charles Pierre. Pierre became the first Owl to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark.
Eichorn saw four players who should play in the NFL someday and could help the host Detroit Lions, who made league history with their imperfect 0-16 season. The last game the Lions won was a game I covered on Dec 23, 2007, when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 25-20.
But my FAU two sports in two night adventure was just beginning as the basketball team was set to play the Kentucky Wildcats 5:46 hours & 349.07 miles away in Lexington at Rupp Arena at 3 PM Saturday on Dec 27th. I was hoping for a split and that became a reality.
The football team had to wait a day later to leave Detroit because of intense fog at Metro Airport. The extra night cost the Owls $18,000 but their win over CMU was priceless exposure.
As for myself, I had tremendous challenges on I-75 because of the fog. It was so bad that I was forced to stop at a Monroe, MI rest area for a couple hours. The fog was so bad that I found myself going five miles per-hour in the fast lane and had to crawl three lanes over then finally finding the rest area exit hoping that I wouldn’t get into a rear-end collision. I stopped at 2:30 am and returned to the road at 4:30 am.
This was the last thing that I needed 48 hours before my 46th birthday on December 29, realizing I wanted to see my Baseball Hall of Fame friend Ernie Harwell.
Rupp Arena was everything I was hoping it would be. FAU was playing the all-time winningest basketball program and is the Mt Everest of college basketball. Seven national championships and an abundance names hanging from the rafters.
A loud and passionate crowd of 24,018 watched the Wildcats defeat FAU 76-69. Even though the UCLA Bruins may have more championships than U-K, have legendary Coach John Wooden, the Wildcats atmosphere still surpasses Pauley Pavilion (12,829).
But the weekend was truly unforgettable!
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com
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