Mark Philbrick, BYU
PROVO — On the day that BYU announced it was going independent in football, Bruce Binkowski, executive director of the Poinsettia Bowl, eagerly e-mailed athletic director Tom Holmoe.
" 'Hey, is there any chance you'd be interested? Because you're going to need a bowl partner,' " Binkowski wrote.
At that time, nearly two years ago, Binkowski saw a golden opportunity for the Cougars to make a postseason return to San Diego. BYU played in seven straight Holiday Bowls there from 1978-84, but the Cougars haven't played in the Holiday Bowl since 1993.
In late 2010, BYU signed a contract to play in this year's San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. The Cougars, who as an independent program can broker their own bowl agreements, will face an opponent from their old league, the Mountain West Conference, on Dec. 20 (on ESPN) — as long as BYU doesn't qualify for a Bowl Championship Series game. The projected payout is $500,000 per team.
"We jumped all over it. We couldn't be happier," Binkowski said of the deal with BYU. "It's been a great relationship with city of San Diego and the San Diego Bowl Association and BYU. To be able to lock them in with the Poinsettia Bowl, we couldn't be happier."
The feeling is mutual.
"Bruce Binkowski has been a friend of mine for a long, long time," Holmoe said. "He was part of the original Holiday Bowl crew. Now we have a chance to get back there. It's been a long time coming. I'm excited to get back. It will be a good matchup, probably with one of our long-lost friends (from the MWC)."
It would mark BYU's first appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl, and its first game in southern California since 2009, when the Cougars defeated San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium.
"I love San Diego. It's a lovely place. My wife's excited, too," said senior defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna. "It's something to look forward to, not only for the team, but for our families who are able to come. We know there will be good weather. I'm sure we'll play a great team."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall is looking forward to not only facing a quality opponent, but also to get some surfing in while in San Diego.
The Poinsettia Bowl, which debuted in 2005, is — along with the Holiday Bowl —under the umbrella of the San Diego Bowl Game Association.
"We run both bowl games. Same staff, same volunteers, same everything," said Binkowski, who attended BYU's media day festivities in June. "At the time, with the Mountain West deal, and BYU was in the Mountain West at the time, we thought, 'We'll get them one of these years.' Then they went to the Las Vegas Bowl five years in a row. When they went independent, that's when we had the chance to get them in the Poinsettia Bowl."
Binkowski has worked with the Holiday Bowl since the inaugural game in 1978, which featured BYU. Over the years, the Cougars played a big role in establishing the Holiday Bowl as a premier bowl game.
"This is our 35th year. When we started the game in 1978, San Diego State had just moved to the WAC, and we were going to get the WAC champion," Binkowski said. "We thought this would be a great way to showcase San Diego State football, to play in the hometown bowl game.
"So BYU won the WAC title seven years in a row. And looking back now, that was the best thing that could have happened to the Holiday Bowl. You had the 1980 ("Miracle Bowl") game. Then we had the national championship game (between No. 1 BYU and Michigan) in 1984. I think BYU really put the Holiday Bowl on the map in the early years to get it to where we are today."
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