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BYU quarterback Jim McMahon raises his arms in celebration as BYU defeated Washington State 38-36 in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Dec. 19, 1981.

BOISE — Orem’s Mark Merrill is leading a caravan of BYU fans to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. His group of 12, including a daughter, brother, brother-in-law and nephews, bit hard on the $20 tickets.

In true BYU fan tradition, costs will be on a budget. Some will crash at the home of Mark’s nephew, a medical student at Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine named Anthony Durfey. Others will stay at the home of BYU Alumni Boise Chapter president TJ Bliss.

Just how will BYU fans travel to Boise to see a six-win Cougar team play Western Michigan on Friday? That remains to be seen.

But if history plays any part, the bowl in Boise and the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium will be the recipient of one of the most responsive fan bases in the region. This is a first for the Cougars, playing in a bowl game in Boise, trying to draw fans to a new destination.

In this regard, BYU fans should take a bow. They’ve usually delivered. And because of that, they’ve been a very attractive draw to bowl games across the country, especially in the West.

"It feels right,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “It’s what we should be doing. Our fans expect it and so do we. I’m just glad we get this bowl game. We are glad to be in Boise and this community where we have so many fans. I’m proud of this team and how they’ve worked.”

The bowl attendance record in Boise was set in its sixth year, 2002, when hometown Boise State played Iowa State and 30,446 attended. That record might not be threatened unless an army of Mark Merrills shows up with their entourages.

It isn’t a stretch to say BYU was a foundation for the now-popular Holiday Bowl that will host Utah and Northwestern later this month. BYU made seven consecutive appearances in that bowl from 1978 to 1984, with opponents that included Michigan, Missouri, Ohio State, Washington State, SMU, Indiana and Navy.

That string of games, mostly tied to BYU, led Utah tight end coach Fred Whittingham Jr., to tweet out this week that he may hold the record for appearances in the Holiday Bowl. As a player, he was there with Ty Detmer when the Cougars played Penn State in 1989 in the highest-scoring game in bowl history.

Tweeted Whittingham: “Counted up and this will be my 9th Holiday Bowl experience. Been as a coach’s son, player’s brother, player and coach. I may lead the nation in Holiday Bowl memorabilia! Can’t wait!”

BYU fans helped create consecutive sellouts in Sam Boyd Stadium and the Las Vegas Bowl with five appearances from 2005 to 2009 and a re-visit against Utah in 2015. One could argue that BYU helped make that bowl a success.

If you count bowl appearances among university programs in the West, BYU ranks among the leaders.

Blueblood USC leads in western bowl appearances with 52, a similar number to Oklahoma (51), Texas (54), Tennessee (52) and Ohio State (48).

Yes, there is a glut of bowl games and you’d have to be pretty bad not to be invited, but the thing is, it is a staple of college football tradition, and BYU has its own tradition of going to bowls.

This will be BYU’s 35th bowl game and that is only one less than Notre Dame's 36. It is more than Cal (22), Boise State (18), Arizona (20), Arizona State (31), Air Force (26), Colorado (29), Stanford ( 27), Utah (21), Utah State (12), Washington State (14), Oregon (31) and Oregon State (15).

In other words, BYU has been to more bowl games than any Pac-12 team other than UCLA (36), USC (52) and Washington (37).

Why is this important?

Because, while bowls are really just rewards for players and coaches and recognition of sorts, the primary reason for any bowl is to make money for the communities in which they operate. And, bowls bring in bucks for TV.

In other words, it is a business venture.

The Cougars, it seems, are good for business, even if many in the fan base don’t gamble or hit the bars, and often sleep on couches of friends and relatives instead of in hotels.

60 comments on this story

That is why it was kind of a big deal when BYU failed to make a bowl last season after winning just four games. It broke with tradition and expectation. Two more wins and BYU would be right there with UCLA and closer to Washington in bowl appearances.

That’s a statement. It solidifies the reputation of the BYU football brand. In this regard, BYU fans deserve a tip of the hat for their consistent, long-term support of the program. You see it wherever the team travels when thousands show up in Madison, Tucson, Tempe, Fort Worth, Dallas, San Diego, Lincoln, East Lansing, Washington, D.C., Boston and other venues.

Winning, now that’s another discussion.