For the Bay Area’s only bowl team this year, the nightmare before Christmas started with 6:36 left in the first quarter of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. After a second quick touchdown put the Spartans ahead, 13-0, the Eagles of Eastern Michigan blocked the extra-point attempt and ran the ball all the way back. Their two points were the first of 33 before San Jose State scored again. Final tally: 41-27.
So much for the December 20 ballgame, which attracted dozens of spectators. The announced attendance was 10,122. I can vouch for the 122. As for the other 10,000, let’s just say the two marching bands might have outnumbered the fans. Definitely so if you count the ensembles’ dancers and flag-twirlers.
Maybe the weather played a part. The 1:30 gametime temperature was 25 degrees on a day that started at 15. I suspect the cold had something to do with San Jose State’s problems on offense after its initial outburst. Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro passed for 366 yards and three touchdowns but also threw two interceptions and endured several dropped balls.
That said, Eastern Michigan’s defensive line adjusted well after San Jose State’s first two scores. The Eagles also stuck with their man-to-man pass coverage, which eventually clicked. Eastern Michigan’s second interception, by cornerback Joshua Scott in the endzone off San Jose State wide receiver Elijah Cooks on a trick play, crushed a promising Spartan drive with 3:25 to go in the first half.
In posting a mild upset (the oddsmakers favored San Jose State by around three-and-a-half points), Eastern Michigan played the better game. Yet few could deny the conditions gave a distinct advantage to the team from Ypsilanti.
Even so, my wife and I enjoyed the afternoon, especially in the glassed-in press box, where I took notes and Sue served as my eyes. (“Honey, who broke up that pass?”) It’s a secret only from the DMV that I don’t see well. And the press section at Albertsons Stadium on the Boise State University campus is just slightly higher than the observation deck at the Empire State Building.
But we stayed warm, and the press box meal was terrific—chili, pulled pork and—no surprise—a loaded baked potato, as if to remind us where we were. According to its website, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is “the longest-running cold weather bowl game in college football.” No further comment.
But, hey—Boise. Strangers smiled and said hello. The desk clerk at Hotel 43—so named because Idaho became the nation’s 43rd state—was informed and friendly. The bartender texted his father on my behalf to ask his favorite fly-fishing spots. The bowl game’s staff was gracious and helpful. What a concept.
And, again, the food around town was excellent and served with genuine care: A perfectly medium-rare burger at a brewpub, four-dozen Puget Sound mussels simmered in a garlic-laden curry broth, more variations on Eggs Benedict than the 49ers have backup quarterbacks, and, on the final morning, the piece de resistance—chicken-fried steak covered in sausage gravy, along with hashbrowns and two eggs over easy. The late Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated (and the author of the hilarious football novel, “Semi-Tough”) was known as a chicken-fried steak aficionado. He would have approved. Then again, if I ate that way all the time, I might also become “late,” and soon.
We toured the Idaho State Museum, which provided a straightforward account of conflicts between settlers and Native Americans. It also described how the state was built on mining, logging and agriculture (potatoes, remember?), industries that today don’t make Idaho’s top five.
A life-sized Marilyn Monroe cutout depicted her in a Miss America-like costume that promoted those potatoes. I laughed when the museum portrayed the great musician Carole King, a native New Yorker, as an “Idaho songwriter.” Later, I looked it up. King moved to Idaho in 1977 and remodeled a sprawling lodge near the Salmon River. So there.
We caught just a little entertainment—a jazz guitarist and a bass player in the hotel bar—and they were better than your average lounge band. I was more intrigued, however, by another local group. During San Jose State’s party at the pub, I bumped into a drummer who said he was the only gentile in an outfit called “The Moody Jews” (a play on the longtime British rock band, The Moody Blues). He told me their repertoire included klezmer and other traditional Jewish music, as well as tunes written by composers such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
And then, only in America: The drummer, Grant Green, and his wife, Annie, were eating dinner before the almost-all-Jewish band’s performance across the street—at the Egyptian Theatre. The venue is also a movie house, and the next day the marquee advertised an eye-catching triple bill: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “White Christmas” and “Die Hard.”
I am not making this up.
But: To my wondering ears, Sue explained that “Die Hard” is sometimes considered a Christmas film because it takes place at the holidays. If that’s true, then I turn again to Sports Illustrated, this time to present the clear winner for “This Week’s Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us.”
We skipped the movies. But, overall, the trip was a delight. Maybe the best part for two people who fly too much: We got out just before the deadly blizzard that covered much of the country. Still, I’m looking forward to going back—in the summer, with my fly rod, before that bartender can share his father’s secrets with everyone else.