Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Members of Utah's 1964 Liberty Bowl team were honored at halftime of the Utes' homecoming game on Sept. 25, 2004. Utah defeated West Virginia, 32-6, in the game played in Atlantic City.

When Utah plays Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth on Saturday, the game will come after a month of buildup, albeit not near as much as two years ago when the Utes played in the Fiesta Bowl.

Still, there have been almost daily stories about the Utah football team since the final regular-season game against BYU nearly a month ago.

Contrast that to 1964, when Utah defeated West Virginia, 32-6, in the Liberty Bowl. Although it was a big deal at the time, the Utes' first bowl game in 17 years and only their third in history, back then there wasn't nearly as much hype.

There were a handful of stories in the Deseret News in the days leading up to the game. The story advancing the game the day before was on the second page of the sports section, behind stories on the front page about the start of the prep basketball season and the Utah and BYU basketball teams. Just two media members, one from each of the city's two newspapers, covered the game.

These days, the players and coaches fly back several days before the game to practice and get acclimated to the game site with at least three practices. At least a dozen media types from Utah travel to cover the game for local newspapers and TV.

In '64, the team arrived just two days before the game late in the afternoon. They had a light workout the day before the game, following a luncheon for both teams and their supporters. Although the songleaders and cheerleaders accompanied the team, the band didn't travel. So the Lebanon High School band from Pennsylvania represented the U., quickly learning a version of "Utah Man."

University of Utah history professor Ron Coleman was the star halfback on the Liberty Bowl team. He felt it was a big deal for the local community back then because "there weren't nearly as many bowl games as there are today" — about a third as many.

That year, the Liberty Bowl game had been moved from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, the only time the bowl was played there, before moving to Memphis, Tenn. The idea was that it was too cold to play in Philadelphia, so the game was moved indoors into the Convention Center, where the Miss America pageant was annually held. A grass field was actually laid for the game.

Coleman remembers there was nothing much between the sod and the cement floor of the Convention Center, making it quite uncomfortable to be tackled. Perhaps that's why two of Utah's top players, Roy Jefferson and John Pease, left the game with shoulder injuries.

Just more than 6,000 people attended the game, which was televised nationally on ABC-TV. The players didn't receive a bunch of gifts from the bowl like this year's team, which gets an MP3 player, a rolling duffle bag, a workout shirt, a mini-helmet, a commemorative football and a watch.

In '64, the players just got a watch, although the university did make sure the players were properly attired by providing them with camel-colored blazers to wear throughout their trip.

Instead of an offensive and defensive MVP, the Liberty Bowl had three awards, including outstanding player, which went to Ute quarterback/safety Pokey Allen, and best lineman, which went to a West Virginia player.

After rushing for 154 yards and a touchdown, Coleman won the "most valuable backfield man" trophy, which, according to an article after the game, "was nearly as tall as Coleman."

One difference between 1964 and modern bowls is what happens after the game.

These days, teams jump on a chartered plane within a couple of hours and jet home, arriving in the middle of the night.

Back in '64, a big banquet was held the evening of the game, where the awards were passed out. Ed McMahon of the Tonight Show was the emcee. The Ute contingent then spent a couple of days touring New York City before returning home three days after the game.

Coleman won't be making the trip to Fort Worth, although he has been to a couple of the Utes' recent bowl games, including last year's Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.

"Getting into bowl games is important," he said. "I always want to see the program competitive."


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