Wisconsin running back Montee Ball talks to reporters after a news conference… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
Improbable as this may sound, if next month you see a young man, early 20s, wearing a fleece pullover, walking down the street flipping a coin and trying to find an outlet to use his Helen of Troy hair dryer, you're probably passing a USC Trojan just back from the Sun Bowl.
You see, it's not all about the game in bowl season. It's also about the swag.
The NCAA allows each of the 35 bowls a chance to offer players up to $550 in gifts.
Some don't give a lot of other gifts and use most of the $550 for a gift suite where items are assigned a number and players pick items until they've reached a certain number. If the bowl offers a lot of other gifts, the amount a player can "spend" in the suite is less; either way the total value of the gifts for each player must not exceed $550.
Some bowls don't bother with the suite.
The Sun Bowl in El Paso, which is hosting USC and Georgia Tech, will be offering players a coin, a Timely watch, a Majestic fleece, a Top of the World cap and a Helen of Troy hair dryer.
It's almost as if the Sun Bowl folks knew they were getting USC. A Helen of Troy hair dryer?
UCLA can taunt its crosstown rival. The Bruins are going to the Holiday Bowl with Baylor and the teams will get a Best Buy gift card, a Tourneau watch, a gift certificate from Maui Jim sunglasses and a bowl cap.
How important is the swag? UCLA didn't make players available to chat about the idea because Coach Jim Mora wanted the players to be surprised. We hate to burst his bubble but the information is all over the Internet and, now, in the paper.
Gina Chapin of the Rose Bowl helps pick out gifts each year.
"It's fun for us," she said, "and we know it's fun for the kids. We try to gather as much input from the previous years as possible, what players liked and didn't like, and then change.
"I would say everybody would tell you that a ring you can wear your whole adult life is popular, an electronics piece [television, iPad, etc.], a wearable, and some unique gift, that turns out well."
It's not just the gifts that make a bowl experience special. The Rose Bowl takes the teams to Disneyland and to Lawry's restaurant in Beverly Hills, where players compete to see which team can eat the most prime rib.
But the other gifts count too.
This year the Rose Bowl is offering a gift suite where players from Stanford and Wisconsin will "get to go shopping," Chapin said. Among the gifts they'll be choosing from in the suite are a recliner and a blender.
Chapin and a committee meet in February to start planning for the next year. Chapin said when iPods first came out someone on the committee suggested them. "But we realized that by the time the Rose Bowl arrived, every kid would have one."
Clothing is difficult, Chapin said, because of sizing issues. "We try to get creative, so we're putting the blender in the suite this year knowing guys are trying to eat healthy."
Chapin said she got a kick out of an unnamed Wisconsin player who, the last two years, spent every possible second allowed circling the gift table, trying to figure out the combination he wanted. "It was a hoot," Chapin said.
"Also, players will be on the phone with mothers or girlfriends asking them what they want."
Heather Houston, executive director of the Texas Bowl in Houston, where Minnesota plays Texas Tech, said, "It's usually the big technology the kids get excited about. We try to give one technology item, something they're proud to wear and a regional item like a belt buckle."
The concept of the gift suite has been traced to the 2008 Orange Bowl, and has been credited to Jon Cooperstein, who works for Performance Awards Center in Carrollton, Texas. He said players used to get a bag, a watch and nothing else. "This is better," he said.
Jon Arnett, an All-American halfback at USC who graduated in 1956, had an easy answer for what players in his day received at bowl games. "Nada," he said.
So, Trojans, enjoy that fleece, flip that coin, dry your hair early and often. And be thankful you can.