- The Washington Times - Friday, December 25, 2009

While most of the D.C. area is likely spending a relaxing Christmas week with friends and relatives, Steve Beck will be on a quest for any open plot of snow-free land.

After all, the two teams traveling to the city to play in Tuesday’s EagleBank Bowl will need to practice somewhere.

Beck, in his second year as president and executive director of the fledgling bowl, is growing used to these “curveballs,” as he calls them.

“We’ll get it figured out,” he said between phone calls with city officials and members of the Temple and UCLA contingents. “We’re finalizing a couple things right now.”

In truth, things are a little bit easier for Beck this time around. A year ago he was essentially starting from scratch in introducing a new bowl to the area. No longer is he defending the notion of a cold-weather bowl game or convincing people that, yes, the aging RFK Stadium still can accommodate football.

Year two of the EagleBank Bowl has seen a doubling of sponsorships from year one, plus an expansion of its community events and its charitable partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project, which assists severely injured servicemen and women.

“To see the community support and everybody getting behind it has been great,” Beck said.

Bowl officials said they were hopeful ticket sales would surpass last year’s matchup between Navy and Wake Forest, which drew an announced crowd of just under 29,000. It will be a challenge given the absence of a local team, but Beck said he expects Temple’s fans to travel well and has been surprised by the number of UCLA and Pac-10 devotees in the area.

Bowl officials went into this season hoping for a matchup between Army and a team from the ACC. But they were left scrambling to find teams from an at-large pool after the ACC failed to qualify enough teams and Army fell short of the required six wins.

But Temple, which qualified for its first bowl since 1979, said it was eager to play in the District despite winning nine games and qualifying for several other bowls with Mid-American Conference tie-ins. UCLA, meanwhile, told bowl officials that it would play in the EagleBank Bowl or stay at home altogether. The result will be a game with a solid storyline: a BCS conference team making a rare trip east to face a college football Cinderella.

“I think we did fantastic given some of the other alternatives out there,” Beck said. “It showed us that we are that premier location. Everybody wants to come to D.C.”

One of the biggest challenges facing any bowl is marketing a game when the teams involved remain a mystery. EagleBank Bowl officials announced Temple’s involvement Dec. 6 but had to wait another week to see whether Army would topple Navy to become bowl eligible. When Army lost, UCLA was in.

But bowl officials said the year of experience has made for a smoother time than last year.

“We’re a year smarter,” said Erik Moses, bowl co-chairman and senior vice president of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority. “That helps a great deal. Some of the basic things like field requirements and communications, we know those things. There are fewer unknowns than last year, and there’s certainly more familiarity about the bowl around the region. We’re making some really good progress and seeing momentum.”