The Scottsdale Plaza Resort consists of 404 rooms and suites, and virtually all of them are adorned in orange this week. The Plaza is OSU’s headquarters hotel, and the entire 40-acre campus has been handed over to the Cowboys.
Football team. Administration. Support personnel. Families. Boosters. Fans.
I went over to the Plaza on Thursday to interview athletic director Chad Weiberg, and the Plaza is all things OSU. Meeting rooms, event spaces converted to dining halls for the squad, even desk clerks wearing OSU shirts.
The Plaza is not as nice as the Camelback Inn – such a place has not been invented – but is more conducive to hosting a football team in town for a big game, the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. The Camelback is all spread out. The Plaza is more condensed.
The Friday ScissorTales check in on OSU assistant coach Charlie Dickey’s love affair with the Fiesta Bowl and Notre Dame’s propensity to use two quarterbacks. But we start with the Cowboys’ team hotel.
The Plaza still is very nice. Five swimming pools. A full-service salon and day spa. Fragrant gardens filled with desert flowers. Elegant Spanish Mission-inspired architecture. Stunning views of Camelback Mountain and Mummy Mountain.
The Plaza has plenty of outdoor space, and Mike Gundy pointed out earlier this week that his squad has made use of tennis courts for some outdoor meetings, as a Covid precaution.
The first phase of the Plaza was built in 1976, with the final portion completed in the 1980s. It long has been a Fiesta Bowl team hotel.
I made myself useful at the Plaza. Trish the Dish had dropped me off to chat with Weiberg; she went down Scottsdale Road to a shop she had spotted.
As Weiberg and I chatted outside the Plaza following the interview, the OSU buses took off, heading for practice. A couple of minutes later, Richetti Jones, the Cowboys’ director of player development, came bursting through the doors and said, “Where are the buses?”
Turns out, OSU moved up practice a few minutes and thus left a few minutes earlier.
Jones was a defensive end on OSU’s great 2011 team. He spent 2012 as a video analyst for The Oklahoman, and he was great. Jones returned to OSU a year or so ago to join the football operations staff.
Weiberg pointed out that a couple of staff members, including defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements, had been jogging the 2½ miles to Saguaro High School, where the Cowboys are practicing this week.
That didn’t sound like such a great idea to me, and that didn’t sound like such a great idea to the gregarious Jones. So I told him we’d be glad to give him a ride.
The Dish was going to take me back to the Camelback and catch a shuttle to OSU’s practice, but she instead could take Jones and I to Saguaro High School. He said sure.
Jones always was a delight to cover. Funny, insightful, pleasant. And he was the same on the 10-minute drive. Completely charming, the Dish thought.
He told us that his job consists of being a big brother and mentor to OSU players. Guide them, advise them, counsel them. “I get paid to be myself,” Jones said.
When we got to practice, the Cowboys had yet to take the field. I chatted with a variety of OSU personnel – old friend Chris Thurmond, who was on John Blake’s OU staff a quarter century ago and now is a Cowboy analyst; photographer Bruce Waterfield, who supplies us with many an OSU photo; Sean Maguire, the PR man for Cowboy football.Soon enough, a Fiesta Bowl representative reported that the media shuttle had arrived – we were allowed to view the first 15 minutes of practice – and asked what to do with the press corps. Another Fiesta Bowl rep said to sequester the media in a room in the high school.
The whole thing puzzled me, but sure enough, they took the 30 or so reporters into the Saguaro band room.
Nobody said a word to me, so I just stayed there chatting. But it was quite strange. The Cowboys were just warming up, not even collectively. Why did the media have to be hemmed in, out of sight, until the official start of practice?
It seemed more of a Fiesta Bowl issue than an OSU issue, but heck, who knows?
Soon enough, my colleagues joined me, we watched about 13 minutes of stretching and some spirited semi-scrimmaging by the third string, and then we were ushered out.
I’m no fan of football practice. It’s mostly a waste of my time, unless I get to talk to people. It’s good for photographers and videographers. And some beat writers can pick up some tips that help their reporting. But it’s clear that no one wants us there. I’d prefer to just be banned all together, then we could just spy if we really wanted to. Which we don’t.
After the shuttle dropped us off back at the Camelback, I bunkered down in my room and worked.
We had no formal interviews Thursday, since the governing College Football Playoff canceled all live interviews and thus Fiesta Bowl Media Day. That’s a bummer, but I understand.
The Dish was out shopping, and I cranked out a ScissorTales and my column on Spencer Sanders.
The Fiesta Bowl hosted a media party Thursday night, but I rarely go to those things. I usually have a better offer and I certainly did in the desert. For dinner, we met Carl and Susie Baerst at Tarbell’s, an upscale place in Scottsdale. The Baersts are OU graduates. Carl is an engineering graduate; the Dish spent 30 years as an OU engineering fundraiser and we got to know them through a variety of functions. They live in Phoenix, just a couple of miles from the Camelback.
Lots of Oklahoma transplants live in the Valley, and trips like this give us a chance to catch up.
I had mushroom risotto and the Dish had salmon. I never ate risotto until I went to Italy in 2014. Rather fine discovery, I would say. Now I have risotto any chance I can get.
All in all, an excellent day at the Fiesta Bowl.
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Charlie Dickey loves the Fiesta Bowl
Lots of people say they love bowl games. But OSU offensive line coach Charlie Dickey loves a particular bowl game. The Fiesta Bowl.
Dickey grew up with the Fiesta Bowl. He’s a Scottsdale native, and his family has been Fiesta Bowl ticket-holders since the game was born 50 years ago.
Dickey was at the first Fiesta Bowl, matching Arizona State and Florida State. Dickey was at the 1975 Fiesta, and when ASU’s Danny Kush kicked a late field goal to give the Sun Devils a 17-14 upset of Nebraska, Dickey was on the field, having snuck down. Dickey was at the 1986 national-championship game between Miami and Penn State, though he had been at the Rose Bowl the day before, watching his sister cheer for the Sun Devils.
“I have a lot of satisfaction in seeing the Fiesta Bowl become what it’s become,” Dickey told fiestabowl.org. “It’s a community bowl. No one knew what it was at first and now it’s one of the big bowls and has been in the rotation for the national championship. Who would’ve thought that was going to happen way back in the early 1970s?”
Dickey’s grandfather, also named Charlie Dickey, bought eight Fiesta Bowl tickets when the game was born. For that 1971 game, Dickey’s grandfather rented a bus for his friends and family, ordered fried chicken and other delicacies, and tailgated before and after the game.
“He was very flamboyant and he enjoyed the tickets to the big new game because he could deliver for his friends,” said Bette Dickey, the mother of OSU’s Charlie. “He loved being with his family and friends, and I think that in his heart, he bought the tickets to be able to spend time with his grandson at the game.”
Father, son (Bud) and grandson turned the Fiesta Bowl into an annual rite.
“I loved it, the whole atmosphere,” OSU’s Dickey said. “What is better than watching football in the stadium on Christmas Day sitting in the stands with my dad and my grandfather?”
Dickey’s Fiesta Bowl ties go even deeper. He played football at Arizona and eventually became his alma mater’s offensive line coach. The 1993 Wildcats played Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, with Dickey on the staff.
“It was an awesome experience,” Dickey told fiestabowl.org. “There was a lot of emotions. Walking on that field, I remember being in the middle, standing on that logo and I looked up at the seats where I used to sit and soaked it all in.”
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Dickey’s mother said she and Dickey’s father had tears in their eyes. Dickey’s grandfather died in 2000, but Bud and Bette Dickey continue on with the Fiesta tickets.
Their son returned again with Kansas State’s 2012, and now he’s back with the 2021 Cowboys.
And here’s a kicker. The Cowboys are practicing at Dickey’s high school alma mater, Saguaro.
Mike Gundy’s youngest son, 17-year-old Gage, was headed from the Scottsdale Plaza to Saguaro the other day to lift weights while the Cowboys practiced.
But Mike Gundy decided to have some fun and bust his offensive line coach.
“I gave him a hard time, because we knew that this was his home and he played here, very tradition-rich high school,” Gundy said. “We were walking out to get ready to get on the bus. And I said, ‘hey, Coach Dickey, do you know how to spell the high school that we’re practicing at today? I just need to know if you know how to spell it so he (Gage) can put it in his GPS.’
“And he spit it out real fast on how to spell it. He said, ‘Coach, that’s my high school.’”
And this is Dickey’s bowl game.
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Venue Ventures: State Farm Stadium
The St. Louis Cardinals moved to Greater Phoenix in 1988. And 18 years later, the Cardinals finally opened the season with a home game.
That’s what air-conditioning will do for you.
OSU plays Notre Dame on Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl, a game that will be contested in State Farm Stadium, which from 2006-18 was called University of Phoenix Stadium.
And while State Farm Stadium isn’t the architectural marvel of JerryWorld in Arlington or Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, it’s a lovely domed stadium that not only keeps fans from the oppressive Arizona heat, but brings some of America’s greatest sporting events to the Valley of the Sun.
State Fair Stadium sits in Glendale, a northwestern suburb of Phoenix, hard by the Gila River Arena, home of hockey’s Arizona Coyotes.
State Fair Stadium has hosted three of college football’s national championship games: 2006 (Florida 41, Ohio State 14); 2010 (Auburn 22, Oregon 19); and 2015 (Alabama 45, Clemson 40).
It also has hosted Super Bowl 42 (Giants 17, Patriots 14) and Super Bowl 49 (Patriots 28, Seahawks 24), plus the 2017 Final Four (North Carolina won the title).
OSU’s only appearance in the stadium came when the Cowboys beat Stanford 41-38 in the Fiesta Bowl 10 years ago. The Cowboys’ 1974 Fiesta Bowl appearance came at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, which also was the Cardinals’ home after moving from St. Louis.
State Fair Stadium has 63,400 seats but can be expanded for huge events. That Auburn-Oregon title game drew 78,603.
The dome is known for its retractable roof and its roll-in natural grass field.
Gundy said his Cowboys should be ready for the stadium. They just played Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game at JerryWorld.
The Fiesta Bowl is a near sellout. Notre Dame has a huge fan following.
“When we practice, about 25 percent of our practice is with music blaring, really loud music,” Gundy said. “It gives us a good simulation of what it’s like to be in a noisy environment and also in a dome. We have played in several domes over the last six to eight years in bowl games.”
Let’s see. OSU has played in NRG Stadium in Houston, the New Orleans Superdome and JerryWorld in recent years. As well as that Stanford Fiesta Bowl.
“It’s interesting in these domes,” Gundy said. “I watched the Cardinals play the Colts the other night, and it was loud for both teams, not just the Colts but also for the Cardinals. We do the best we can with music in practice that’s extremely loud to try to simulate what it could be in a dome.”
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Notre Dame uses two quarterbacks
Remember the Walshing Machine of a few years ago? OSU would use J.W. Walsh as a short-yardage quarterback back in the Mason Rudolph days.
Notre Dame has its version of the same. Freshman Tyler Buchner occasionally relieves senior transfer Jack Coan and has been effective. The quarterback rotation is something OSU must contend with Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Well, we’ve had the fortunate benefit of having a month to prepare,” said OSU defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements, who is expected to be the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Saturday. “It might have been a little bit more of a headache if we only had a week. But you see some uniqueness with the quarterbacks that they play, but you also see similarities. And it’s a very deep position for them.”
Coan, who transferred from Wisconsin, is the clear starter and a team leader. But he’s been fine with giving way on occasion.
“They’ve got a guy that’s starting for them that’s playing in his second New Year’s Six game for two different programs,” Clements said. “So that doesn’t just happen by accident. He also has a tremendous amount of ability.
“And then they bring in No. 12 (Buchner), and he’s a dynamic runner, but he can also throw the ball. And he can make some things happen for them.”
Coan is no running threat, though he’s completed 67.6 percent of his passes and has thrown for 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Buchner has completed just 21 of 36 passes for 298 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. But he’s rushed 46 times for 336 yards, an average of 7.3 yards per carry.
“I just try to stay in the moment and focus on each and every play that I have when I’m in there,” Coan said. “And then when I’m out, I sort of just try to use it as a reset. I think about what I’m getting. Maybe look at the defense when Tyler is on the field and see what they’re playing and get a better sense for myself, so I just have a better chance to have some success when I go back out there.”
Mailbag: Should bowls pay players?
Many have suggested paying players to not skip bowl games. But one reader had a more direct plan.
Chris: “I read your story last week regarding how only the NFL can save the bowls from players opting out. I personally don’t think the NFL cares or has the ability to stop that. But you might have been closer than you think. Not the NFL, but what about the NIL (Name/Image/Likeness)? I don’t know the inner working of NIL contracts and so forth, but it seems to me like legal payments for not much real work. Reminds me of the 1970s, when players were paid to make sure the automatic sprinklers come on — Robbie Benson in “One on One”? If the bowls want to protect their viewership by having the best players in their games, then they need to sign the players to promote their games. If the Fiesta Bowl wants Kyren Williams to play in their game, pay him. How much? I don’t know. Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery would command more money. Bowl money is huge, must be mostly TV money. TV will pay anybody to grab more eyeballs in this day and age. What if TV paid players who were draft eligible $10,000 to play in the game? Maybe Fournette and McCaffrey would want more but Kyren Williams? Maybe he would play. Maybe he needs $25k, in the end it’s not that much compared to the bowl payouts. Different bowls would have different amounts. Kyren Williams might not even get drafted. Chuba Hubbard was 6-1, 210 (pounds) and 4.45 speed and went in the fourth round. Williams is 5-9, 195. He will get his shot, but he might be a sixth or seventh rounder.”
Tramel: I suppose that could work. But I’m skeptical. I think it could do more harm than good. First, the numbers for the great players would be huge. An agent is going to tell Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett that $25,000 is not worth it. And let’s say it does work, that some stars are enticed to play. Would that cause some consternation among teammates and make some considering opting out unless they’re paid, too.
I think we can all agree that it’s one big mess.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected] He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.