“I know a lot of people didn’t get them because we thought we could get them as a bowl gift,” Minter said.
Ah, the bowl gift. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in college football. For college football fans, bowls may mean tradition or pageantry or a chance to see seldom-made matchups. For players, it means goodie bag time.
“Oh yeah,” Minter said. “We’re always thinking, ‘What can we get? What’s new out?’”
Thanks to Georgia’s win in the SEC Championship Game and qualification for the Sugar Bowl, each one of its players will receive five gift packages worth more than $1,800 in the next month alone. Through the years, the Bulldogs’ senior have collected an IPod, two televisions, a portable DVD player, a camcorder and more watches than they can fit on their arm as bowl gifts. And those are just the headlining items.
“The first time we went to the Sugar Bowl, we got, I guess you call it an afghan maybe, a blanket,” offensive lineman Dennis Roland said. “It wasn’t too useful for me, but it was a nice gift for my mother.”
Georgia’s players will receive a custom-sized Trek mountain bike, an MP3 player, a Fossil watch-and-sunglass set and a baseball cap as gifts from the Sugar Bowl this year. Those gifts have a retail value of just under $500, which is the limit for bowls to spend on their packages.
Georgia’s athletic association can spend $325 on a gift for its players for qualifying for the SEC title game and another $350 for qualifying for the bowl game. The school will take input from the team’s seniors before deciding what to buy, said Steve Greer, director of football operations.
Minter’s vote will be for a PlayStation Portable, he said, and it’s a good bet the school will give the players whatever they want so long as it’s legal.
“We always make sure we get the kids everything they can within the rules,” senior associate athletic director Frank Crumley said.
Maximizing the bowl gift package is very important, said former South Carolina coach and ESPN analyst Lou Holtz, because the outcome of bowl games is often dependant on which team is the most motivated.
“When the players get together at the bowl site, they interact with each other,” Holtz said. “They’re going to get together and say, ‘How much did you practice? How much spending money did you get? What kind of gifts did you get?’ You always want to make sure your players aren’t being shortchanged in that respect because it affects their attitudes.”
The Sugar Bowl has a committee just to decide on its gift package. Committee members usually end up asking the office interns for advice, executive director Paul Hoolahan said.
“We try to get their read on what the college crowd is into these days,” he said.
Otherwise, players might end up with another frightful blue blazer like the one they got at the Capital One Bowl two years ago.
“That was the worst,” Minter said. “I haven’t worn that one time.”
Last year, the Sugar Bowl got high marks for its package that included a portable DVD player, a Weber Baby Q gas grill and a watch. Sports Illustrated gave that loot its highest rating in an informal survey of all the bowl’s gifts. This year, though, the Sugar missed the mark with the mountain bike, Minter said.
“I live nowhere near the mountains, and I stopped riding a bike when I was like 13,” he said.
The 6-foot-9 Roland likes the idea of a bike built to fit him. He hasn’t ridden a bike since early in middle school.
“I got too big,” he said. “Maybe I can get back into it, save some gas money.”
Speaking of gas money, most of the Bulldogs are taking a big hit on another big perk of the bowl season – the mileage check. Unlike in the regular season when teams travel as a group, players usually are responsible for their own transportation to bowl sites. Schools are allowed to pay each player for the mileage based on either the mileage from his campus to the bowl site or his hometown to the bowl site, whichever is further.
Most players carpool to the bowl site and save as much of their money as possible to put in their own pockets. This year, though, there won’t be much, if any, left. That’s because the Sugar Bowl has been moved from its traditional home in New Orleans to Atlanta, just 70 miles from Georgia’s campus and even closer to where many of the players were raised.
That has already been a topic of discussion in the locker room, said Minter, who will get a travel reimbursement of about $36 instead of the $264 he would have received if the game were played in New Orleans.
“We know we’re not getting any money,” he said. “I wish they had come up with a compromise, like, give us the money for where the Sugar Bowl is supposed to be, in Louisiana. By the time we fill up on gas, that’ll be the whole check.”
Of course, he could always ride his bike.
One of the highlights of postseason games for college football players is always the goodie bag. Georgia’s players will receive a total of five gift packages worth up to $1,825 for their participation in the SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl this year. Here’s a breakdown of the gift list:
For participating in the SEC Championship Game
$325 worth of gifts from SEC – Flat screen television and watch
$325 from school – Undecided
For winning SEC Championship Game
$325 from school – championship ring
For participating in Sugar Bowl $500 from bowl -- Nokia Sugar Bowl logo baseball cap, Fossil watch and sunglass set, Samsung MP3 player, custom-sized Trek mountain bike $350 from school -- undecided