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Mark A. Philbrick, Courtesy BYU Photo
BYU's Kyle Whittingham, front, celebrates the Cougars' Holiday Bowl victory on Dec. 19, 1980, in San Diego.

SALT LAKE CITY — Back in the day, a little more than 39 years ago, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham played in the inaugural Holiday Bowl. He was with BYU when the Cougars dropped a 23-16 decision to Navy.

It marked the first of four straight Holiday Bowl appearances for Whittingham and BYU. The second was a 38-37 loss to Indiana. Then came the “Miracle Bowl” when the Cougars rallied for a thrilling 46-45 win over SMU.

In 1981, BYU edged Washington State 38-36 in Whittingham’s final college football game. He was named the game’s defensive MVP.

" Good memories. Nothing but good memories of the Holiday Bowl and the experiences there. "
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

Whittingham said going back to the San Diego-based bowl this week, as coach of the Utes, is pretty cool. He noted that it’s full circle for him.

“I had a great time every single year. It was a great experience,” Whittingham said. “And so, like I’ve said, it’s just coming back to the beginning for me.”

Whittingham was inducted into the Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame in 2009, noting his four appearances — one as a running back and three as a linebacker. Bowl officials credited Whittingham with 27 career tackles in the Holiday Bowl, including 16 in the win over SMU. He had 10 stops and a fumble recovery in the victory against Washington State the following year.

“Good memories,” Whittingham said. “Nothing but good memories of the Holiday Bowl and the experiences there.”

TRAVEL PLANS: The Utes wrapped up their Salt Lake City practices Saturday morning and sent everyone home for the Christmas holiday. Everyone was scheduled to fly to San Diego in time for a team meeting and practice Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ll all be ready to roll,” Whittingham said.

Utah is scheduled to have four practices and a walk-through in California.

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TICKET DONATIONS: Fans wishing to donate Holiday Bowl tickets to various causes may do so at utahtickets.com. Options include getting University of Utah students into the game, giving to STAR/PAL (Sports Training Academics, Recreation/Police Athletic League) an inner-city nonprofit organization serving youths in the San Diego area, or making a general donation.

SDCCU Holiday Bowl

No. 22 Northwestern (8-5) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-4)

  • SDCCU Stadium — San Diego
  • Dec. 31, 5 p.m. MST
  • TV: FS1
  • Radio: ESPN 700AM