' ' Cinema Romantico: Sun Bowl Follies

Monday, January 13, 2020

Sun Bowl Follies

It’s a year old, this Brian Batko piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recounting in oral history form the historically hideous 2008 Sun Bowl in which Oregon State eked out a 3-0 win over Pitt. But thanks to a link from Banner Society, I only just discovered this article, and of all the details, one, predictably, caught my eye. The Sun Bowl, for you understandable non-CFB devotees in the audience, is played in El Paso, the stadium mere miles from the border, and in the piece Pitt backup quarterback Pat Bostick advises “I remember vividly, if you were to cross the border and come back alive, you’d be sent home on a Greyhound bus. That was the [message] — you’d get a bus ticket home. It was on every page of our players’ manual for the week.” STOP THE TAPE.

Part of the Don’t Go to Mexico orders, granted, stems from very real-world problems. I understand that. And I respect that. And I don’t want to make light of those issues. But, Ciudad Juárez, the city directly across the border from El Paso to which the coaches were referring, has been trying to improve both its reality and its image. And maybe we can help a little with our roaring college football comedy that rather than taking the worst headlines as inspiration will take inspiration from the 1977 Sun Bowl, which I’ve written about before, the one with Burt Reynolds – that’s right – as color commentator alongside play-by-play man Pat Summerall. SBNation briefly recounts this significant occasion and a mid-game exchange:

Summerall: “Wind blowing left to right.”
Reynolds: “On its way to Juarez, right?
Summerall: “Blew us over there a couple of times.”

Read lightly between the lines and you can see the tequila flowing between our intrepid announcing team on Sun Bowl Eve. And so, our roaring college football comedy will bunk down with the Michigan State Spartans as they arrive in El Paso for the Sun Bowl. We choose the Spartans because their coach is Mark Dantonio and his, shall we say, gruff personality evokes the kind of coach waiting, yearning to be displeased simply so he can unleash wind sprints on his immature charges meaning that automatically the stakes will be sky high.

The plot turns on backup quarterback, sophomore Drew Cortes, thinking he’ll have squat to do come Sun Bowl kickoff, ignoring his coach’s orders and crossing the border in the company of a few disobedient others. It is in Juárez, however, in the middle of we’ll write-in-later-what when the assuming backup gets the word from back in El Paso: the dadgum starting quarterback has suffered a norovirus and Drew is taking his place. That means he needs to get back across the border ASAP, which proves more difficult than initially expected, encountering comical character after comical character, including, naturally, a Reynolds-ish color commentator for the Sun Bowl TV broadcast (Glen Powell) becoming a Neil Patrick Harris in “Harold and Kumar” kind of tag-along instigator, the Sun Bowl Queen (Abbi Jacobson), not so much mystical as a mystic, forcing Drew and crew on a trek to visit an ostensibly supernatural blue agave plant she swears will help him win the game, a menacing border agent (Michael Shannon) with an unexpected bleeding heart, and, just at the last second, when all seems lost and about to be made worse, a chance encounter with Drew’s quarterback coach (Kevin Corrigan), evoking the urban legend of Lane Kiffin’s iniquitous alter ego Joey Freshwater who, rather than pulling rank, pulls a Jeanie Bueller and helps his young charge.

Finally, the next afternoon, just in the nick of time, the menacing but bleeding heart border agent ushers Drew across the border and into the stadium where, having a blue agave flashback late in the 4th quarter of a tie game, Drew calls, entirely of his own volition, the old hidden ball trick, scoring the winning touchdown. The Reynolds-ish color commentator, his eyes conspicuously hidden by massive aviator sunglasses, tells his play-by-play man, “You know, in the time I spent with Cortes leading up to this game, I really came away thinking, ‘Now here’s a young man who just likes to win.’” (A post-credits scene finds Fake Dantonio at a post-game press conference explaining he is very proud of Drew for “embracing the challenge” but, unfortunately, he now has to revoke his scholarship to make room for a 5-star recruit from Houston.)

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