Kyle Eckel already had planned for one postseason trip to San Francisco. Now he’s going to be there twice in less than a month.
Navy yesterday accepted an invitation to the Emerald Bowl and will play either New Mexico or Wyoming on Dec.30 at SBC Park. Eckel, a senior fullback, also will be in the city Jan.15 for the East-West Shrine Game, which also is played at SBC.
There have been several bowls pursuing the Midshipmen in case a spot opened up. The Emerald Bowl was the first to offer a formal invitation, and Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk didn’t wait for others.
“The timing couldn’t be better for us,” Gladchuk said. “It’s after Christmas, and it will give our Midshipmen a chance to take their exams, which are on the 19th. Then they can spend some time at home with their families and then gear up post-Christmas to make that trek out there.”
The Emerald Bowl, which pays $750,000 to each team, has known since Nov.13 that the Pac-10 would not be able to fulfill its commitment because it would not have six bowl eligible teams. The Emerald Bowl, along with the Silicon Valley Football Classic, was among the first bowls with at-large openings.
Executive director Gary Cavalli was in a unique position. This would have been the first year with a Pac-10 team in the Emerald Bowl, but Cavalli had a head start on other bowls and was able to pursue the Midshipmen in earnest.
“Navy was being courted by a number of other bowls around the country,” Cavalli said. “They bring the whole package. We feel this is a real coup for the Emerald Bowl.”
There is a large contingent of academy alums — Gladchuk estimated the number at 6,000 — living on the West Coast, not to mention all of the naval bases and personnel. Navy hasn’t played a game in California since losing at San Diego State 45-31 to open the 1997 season.
“I’ve actually been besieged with requests to play a game out there,” Gladchuk said. “That’s led to the Stanford matchup [in 2006]. It’s led to a Cal matchup [in 2008]. We’ve got a game at Washington down the road [in 2010].
“We’ll take them from Seattle to San Diego, and they’ll all show up for this game.”