The Arizona Republic, Nick Oza, Associated Press
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — John Junker has witnessed some of the biggest games in college football history during his 30-year run as a bowl organizer.
He saw Penn State take down mighty Miami in 1987, watched Ohio State upset the Hurricanes in 2003, and was there when Texas knocked off Southern California at the 2006 Rose Bowl.
As president and CEO of the Fiesta Bowl, Junker professes that Oregon vs. Auburn in Monday's BCS national title game could top them all. "To me, those are some of the real enormous games and this, I think, is bigger," he says.
And indeed the matchup is a hot ticket, thanks to the fact that the teams are newcomers to the championship and each boast prolific offenses. The No. 1 against No. 2 showdown is sure to be another financial windfall for the Phoenix area, too.
There's just one thing. Around here, it's hard to tell one of the major sporting events of the year is about to happen.
There are no big signs at the airport touting the area as host of the title game, no strings of billboards dotting the freeway every few miles, no overwhelming, isn't-this-great enthusiasm from the people around town.
Other than a few condensed pockets — the fanfest in central Scottsdale being one — even the Duck and Tiger faithful who came in for the game don't exactly stick out, their team colors nearly blending in with everyone else in the nation's fifth-largest city.
Some Auburn fans didn't even fly into Arizona. They landed in Las Vegas to spend a few days living it up on The Strip before heading across the desert for the championship.
With an area that takes about an hour to drive across and a long history of hosting big events, Phoenix is treating what would be a spectacle in most cities as just another Monday that happens to end with the most important college football game of the season.
"Phoenix is so spread out that it tends to swallow up big events like this," said Fiesta Bowl spokesman Andy Bagnato, who grew up in the area. "It's a great city for putting on big events and people who want a piece of those big events know where to come."
No doubt, it is a great place for big events.
Phoenix has been site of two Super Bowls, the World Series, the NCAA Tournament, playoffs in all four major sports. The NBA All-Star Game has been here twice and baseball's version will be at Chase Field in the upcoming season. There are two NASCAR races here and the Phoenix Open has the biggest crowds of the PGA Tour, 400,000-plus fans — many of them at the rowdy 16th hole — crowding around the course.
It's also become a bowl haven.
Phoenix hosts the Insight and Fiesta bowls regularly, and became the first area to be the site of three bowls in one season four years ago with the addition of the 2007 BCS title game.
According to an economic impact study by the W.P. Carey School of Business, that initial bowl threesome generated $401.7 million for the state, 3,576 jobs and $10.1 million in state and local taxes. Fiesta Bowl board chairman Duane Woods said that even with a not-so-glamourous Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Connecticut, the area could bring in around $420 million from this year's tripleheader.
"For each of our bowls, we have a whole different crowd coming in," he said. "People really do see this as a destination bowl for them. They come out for the week, they enjoy the weather, all the other things."
The weather and all those other things are part of what makes Phoenix have such a good draw for bowl games.
Not only do fans want to come here when their teams get into an Arizona bowl, many are already here. Phoenix is filled with transplants from all over the country, and every year there's a migration of "snow birds," older people who come down from colder places for the winter.
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