Oklahoma State played in its 11th consecutive bowl game under coach Mike Gundy. With a win, the Cowboys secured a 10-win season for the fifth time in seven years. For the Buffaloes, the appearance marked the end of a drought that dates back to 2007, when they last played in a bowl. Colorado had a remarkable turnaround, going from worst in the Pac-12 South, with a 1–8 conference record last year, to winning the division at 8-1 this year before losing to No. 4 Washington in the conference championship game.
“For CU it has been a long time. We are kind of starving, so to speak,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, the 2016 AP Coach of the Year. “Our guys are extremely hungry about playing, and so is our fan base.”
Both fan bases showed up. Cowboys fans had the advantage of a shorter drive from Stillwater, but Colorado supporters, excited about once again being in a bowl game, brought plenty of enthusiasm, noise, and even Ralphie the buffalo to San Antonio.
“Being in a bowl game is huge,” said Colorado fan Stefani Adams. “It means a lot for the school, the students, and the growth of the program. Our stadium is packed, finally, and people are excited about Colorado football.”
San Antonio provided its visitors with unseasonably warm temperatures that allowed for comfortable experiences for players and fans everywhere from practices to the pep rally. Highs reached into the 80s at times, so shorts, flip flops, and sleeveless shirts were visible all around the Alamo City.
“This is a great bowl destination,” said Oklahoma State fan Shane Smithton, who traveled to the game from Woodward, Oklahoma. “The weather is nice and warm, and there is plenty to do. The experience with the Riverwalk really makes this a unique bowl game and a great bowl atmosphere.”
Strolling along the Riverwalk at night, every restaurant and bar overflowed with people, and even just walking on the sidewalk required patience, as the popular tourist destination was jam-packed. Lines at the historic Alamo zig-zagged around the corner and towards the street, with hundreds of people waiting to get a glimpse. Fans from both teams made sure San Antonio was painted orange and gold, and you couldn’t walk five steps without seeing gear from either team.
As part of the bowl week festivities, both teams participated in events unique to San Antonio. On Christmas, players took in a Spurs basketball game at the AT&T Center. The next day, Colorado and Oklahoma State had a team day at SeaWorld San Antonio, where players got the chance to interact with dolphins and ride the Steel Eel roller coaster. Team hotels sat right on the Riverwalk, so players stayed steps away from everything San Antonio has to offer.
“This is what you work for all year,” said Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. “A bowl is an awesome opportunity to play in a big time game against a big time opponent with a whole week of enjoying yourself. It’s not just a regular game. Being so close to the Riverwalk and all the lights and scenery, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Ahead of game day, special guests of the teams and players ate together at the PrimeSport Kickoff Luncheon. ESPN broadcasters Mack Brown and Adam Amin, who called the game, told stories and interviewed captains at the head table. It was one last friendly activity before teams took the field.
Locally, the Valero Alamo Bowl does a lot to give back to the community. For the 10th time, they partnered with the San Antonio Food Bank to “Fill the Bowl.” People who donated 20 cans of food or $20 received a ticket to the game, with the goal of helping ensure that South Texas families have enough to eat.
In 2016, the Valero Alamo Bowl committed more than $800,000 in scholarships to students that hailed from every public and well-established private school in San Antonio. The total was a record for the program, which has distributed more than $2.6 million in scholarships to Bexar County high school seniors since 2001.
San Antonio, which will host the 2018 Final Four, hopes to continue to welcome big time events. The city shines and buzzes with excitement whenever it opens its arms to sports fans everywhere, and the Alamo Bowl between Oklahoma State and Colorado proved to be another example of that.
Photographs by (from top): Ronald Cortes/Getty Images; Courtesy Valero Alamo Bowl