By MATTHEW STEVENS
After being responsible for a generous invitation to their postseason game, Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett was given an early Christmas gift Monday to help him ring in the New Year.
Catlett was given a brand-new Mississippi State cowbell at the Gator Bowl press conference Monday in the Bryan Building and the Gator Bowl representative found his present to very appropriate for the announcement he had to State fans.
“I understand your fan base figured out a little bit later on that the fines and things weren't going to be what they needed and they learned not to ring them during the game,” Catlett said. “We're going let them bring their cowbells to our game and they can ring them anytime they want to.”
Mississippi State fans have been allowed to bring a cowbell into a bowl game stadium in each of their 14 postseason appearances and Catlett simply asked the maroon and white family to abide by the new Southeastern Conference legislation and State athletic director Scott Stricklin has encouraged fans to bring the “new tradition” to Jacksonville via his Twitter account.
“I can't believe over the years we haven't had Mississippi State play in the game before now but we're excited about checking that box off and getting another great institution from the Southeastern Conference in our stadium to play in our game against a Michigan team that has all the tradition and history that Michigan has,” Catlett said.
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez has already acknowledged he will have to prepare for the sound of cowbells being rung throughout New Year’s Day.
Prior to a 42-14 win over MSU in 2006, Rodriguez had his West Virginia assistants ring cowbells throughout practice.
“To try to prepare for the road game in Starkville, we purchased a bunch of cowbells and were ringing them all week in practice,” Rodriguez said. “Our guys were annoyed with it. We’ll hear a lot of cowbells (at the Gator Bowl), so our guys will hear them in practice here the next few weeks.”
When controversy arose in the last 48 hours as it was being reported by multiple news outlets the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4) were being passed over by the Outback Bowl for Florida despite beating the Gators during the regular season in Gainesville, Catlett said Monday that Stricklin was instrumental in getting MSU into its first bowl game in the Sunshine State since World War II.
"I want you to know your athletic director worked very hard to convince my board to make this selection,” Catlett said. “State has sold all of their tickets and asked for more tickets. When I talked to my ticket manager about 9:00 a.m. this morning we had about 428 tickets left in a 70,000 seat stadium.”
Catlett had no problem discussing the conversations he and the rest of the Gator Bowl committee had with SEC commissioner Mike Slive during the days leading up to the bowl selection process but had issue with certain publications saying the league “twisted their arm” to select Mississippi State.
“We had a lot of conversation and it was really down to whether or not the Outback Bowl was going to take Florida and we didn't know that until Sunday afternoon,” Catlett said. “The Chick-fil-A were on the hook and when they took South Carolina it made the decision very easy. You got an 8-4 team, ranked 21st in the country. (Slive) is not going to tell you who's going to play where, he is going to walk you through the seasons you had and TV ratings. It was portrayed in one publication he twisted our arm a little bit, I promise there was no twisting of any arms in the talks with the commissioner.”
State officials announced today that the university has sold its allotment of tickets, which ended up being an estimated 16,500, and the Gator Bowl was down to just 428 tickets left in EverBank Field that has over 70,000 seats.
“When you're putting a matchup together for a bowl game, you're looking for three things Catlett said. “You want a good football game, an exciting matchup between two good football teams playing a game that matches up - nobody likes a 41-0 game. The second thing is heads and beds. The third is quite frankly television ratings and you'll have the significance of Mississippi and the television market with Michigan being the brand that they are.”