The reunion angle ruled Tuesday's news conference at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, but with a unique twist.
Although the competing coaches have extensive experience taking teams to TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium, both Air Force's Troy Calhoun and Rice's David Bailiff found familiar landmarks missing in the wake of a $164 million stadium overhaul that caused the bowl to be played in Dallas, rather than Fort Worth, the past two seasons.
And that's a good thing for everyone involved with the Dec. 29 game.
"I thought I was going to have to duck to get into the visitors locker room. Then, I realized it wasn't there any more," said Bailiff, reflecting on lessons learned during his three seasons on the TCU staff (2001-03). "This is just a fabulous venue. It's completely reinvented itself. You walk around and you go 'wow' every time you turn the corner."
Calhoun took teams to the last three Armed Forces Bowl games played in Fort Worth (2007-09) and played a regular-season season game at TCU in 2010, before stadium renovations began.
"I didn't recognize the place," Calhoun said.
In many ways, that is a good thing. Not only are bowl officials happy to be back in Fort Worth after playing the past two seasons at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium, but executive director Brant Ringler said he is confident that eye-catching stadium renovations will forever remove the issue of frozen seats and frozen restroom pipes that marred the chilly 2004 game between Cincinnati and Marshall.
"Now, I don't feel like we're going to have any problem like that," Ringler said. "This is our home venue. We're ecstatic to be back here."
Calhoun praised architects for doing "a great job of blending" the stadium into the existing campus landscape. Bailiff, TCU's defensive coordinator under coach Gary Patterson during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, acknowledged a warm feeling as he toured the facility Tuesday.
"You take a little ownership at every program you've been in. And so, when I walk in here, I feel a little pride that I was a small part of it," Bailiff said. "It's exciting to come back and see what this university's done. This is one of the finest college venues I've ever seen."
Seats for military
Brant Ringler said bowl officials have distributed more than 10,000 complimentary tickets to military veterans and active-duty personnel who have made requests and additional seats under that promotion are still available. For information, visit www.ArmedForcesBowl.com or call the bowl office at 817-810-0012. Public-sale tickets, ranging from $20 to $150, are available online.
Air Force (6-6) will wear specially designed uniforms in Fort Worth, inspired by the B-2 Spirit and F-22 Raptor aircrafts. The helmet logo is the top view of a B-2 Spirit aircraft.
Rice (6-6) won five of its last six games to become bowl-eligible despite having only seven seniors on its roster.
"Early in the season, we were losing close football games where all we needed to make was one more play," Bailiff said. "We found that play late in the year."
Tale of the Texans
Air Force has 17 players from Texas on its roster, including RB Broam Hart from Alvarado (29 carries, 100 yards, 1 TD). Rice has 87 Texans, including eight from Tarrant County high schools: K Chris Boswell, WR Christian Fletcher, LB Michael Kutzler, CB Ryan Pollard, QB Michael Poynter, C Nate Richards, OL Spencer Stanley and LB Chandler Watkins.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760