Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Weekend Underway

Dec. 29, 2000

PHOENIX, Ariz. - It was just lunch - for 4,000 people.

Oregon State's football team was among the guests of honor Friday afternoon at the New West Energy Fiesta Bowl Kickoff Luncheon. ESPN's Steve Levy was the master of ceremonies for the program, which was conducted in the format of the cable network's SportsCenter program.

About two hours earlier, the fifth-ranked Beavers had visited Sun Devil Stadium - site of Monday's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game with 10th-ranked Notre Dame - for the trip's biggest press conference. The events marked the real beginning of the Fiesta Bowl weekend, with the Beavers and Fighting Irish moving more and more into the spotlight in the Valley of the Sun.

'That's what you play for throughout the whole season - to get to the point you're in a big-time bowl game,' OSU linebacker Darnell Robinson said. 'You've got the media, you've got the nice atmosphere, you're in the sun - this is what we've been playing for, to be in the best situation possible at the end of the season.

'And we are right now.'

The Beavers entered the Phoenix Civic Plaza through a lobby filled with orange-clad Oregon State fans and officials, with a portion of the OSU band playing the fight song near an ice sculpture of the Beaver logo. Players and coaches from the Beavers and the Fighting Irish were scattered among the tables in the immense convention hall.

After season highlights were shown on a trio of big-screen televisions, the head coaches and five players from each team were interviewed live. In introducing OSU head coach Dennis Erickson, Levy reviewed the lengthy list of honors Erickson has earned this season.

'It's been a great season for me personally,' Erickson said. 'But you don't get those awards without having great players and assistant coaches ... it's been very gratifying.'

The Kickoff Luncheon drew fans from both schools and from the Phoenix area, and included performances by the marching bands from OSU and Notre Dame.

'It's a little different game,' Erickson said in comparing college football to his experience as a head coach in the National Football League. 'College football is as pure as it gets. It's all about the alumni and the fans and the students ... seeing them get excited about the game, that's what I think I missed the most while I was in the NFL.'

More and more Oregon State fans can be seen pouring into the Phoenix area in recent days, and those at the luncheon frequently broke into applause for any positive mention or video highlight of the Beavers.

Later, Simonton was asked if the Beavers needed to beat Notre Dame on Monday as an 'exclamation point' for those who may not yet feel that the 10-1 team deserves to be mentioned with the nation's elite.

'We need to go make an exclamation point for each other,' Simonton said. 'For staying (in Corvallis) in the summer and working out and not going home. We don't need to make an exclamation point for the critics, we need to make it for ourselves.'

The Media Day on Friday morning included the entire Beaver team in their game jerseys. Erickson, Simonton, Robinson, safety Terrence Carroll and quarterback Jonathan Smith each had their own platform in front of one sideline, about 10 other OSU players were scattered among the nearby midfield seating sections with a nameplate and a Fiesta Bowl volunteer.

'It's fun - it's extremely fun,' Carroll said of the weekend's events. 'It's going to be great. You look around and see all the banners - Tostitos, Fiesta Bowl - it's a major event. It's going to be watched nationally. I'm looking to have a great game along with the team.'

NOTES: Between the Media Day activities and the Kickoff Luncheon, Oregon State held a brief walkthrough practice on an Arizona State practice field near Sun Devil Stadium. Later in the afternoon, OSU held a workout in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets at Scottsdale Community College.

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