In Phoenix, it’s not often that locals run into wintertime visitors from the Midwest who wish they were someplace else. But Oklahoma State fans who begin streaming into America’s sunniest metropolis next week for the Fiesta Bowl might be the exception.
Given their druthers, those fans would rather be cheering the No. 3-ranked Cowboys in the BCS Championship game. Alas, the ’Pokes aren’t getting a shot at their first-ever national football title because the BCS system left them out in the cold.
On the bright side for Oklahoma State fans, if they’re going to be figuratively left out in the cold, there is literally no better place for it than Phoenix. The average January high temperature here is 67 degrees, and the mercury is expected to flirt with 70 during New Year’s Eve weekend.
“Everybody who’s a college football fan is familiar with Oklahoma State’s situation, but I know Coach (Mike) Gundy has told his team to make the most of the opportunity at the Fiesta Bowl,” said Scott Dunn, a spokesperson for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I would give OSU fans the same advice: Make your trip memorable. Go on a hike. Play some golf. Take a balloon ride. Post something on your Facebook wall that makes your friends back home jealous.”
Oklahoma State is making only its second postseason appearance in Greater Phoenix. The Cowboys beat Indiana 49-33 in the 2007 Insight Bowl, and they defeated Brigham Young 16-6 in the 1974 Fiesta Bowl. The ’Pokes will be looking to keep their Phoenix bowl record unblemished against No. 4-ranked Stanford on Jan. 2 at University Stadium.
The game will feature two of the NCAA’s most prolific offenses (the Cowboys average 49.3 points and 557 yards per game compared to Stanford’s 43.5 points and 481 yards) and showcase two of the nation’s best quarterbacks in 28-year-old Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State and presumptive NFL No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck of Stanford.
“With that kind of offensive firepower on display, we expect a big crowd,” Dunn said. “Oklahoma State always travels well, and this will be the last chance for Stanford fans to see Andrew Luck play in a Cardinal uniform.”
To accommodate in the expected influx of Oklahoma State fans, Southwest Airlines has added flights between Phoenix and Oklahoma. Southwest will add one daily round-trip flight between Phoenix and Oklahoma City and Tulsa on Jan. 1 and Jan. 3, bringing the total to three daily round-trip flights on each route.
Fiesta Bowl officials predict the Fiesta Bowl and its sister bowl, the Insight Bowl, will carry a $200 million economic impact to the region. According to the Fiesta Bowl website, more than 3 million out-of-state visitors travel to Arizona for the game and its related events.
To commemorate this year’s clash of top-5 teams, the Greater Phoenix CVB has compiled a top-5 list of things Fiesta Bowl fans can see and do during their stay in the heart of the Sonoran Desert:
5. Eat out (literally).
When picking a restaurant in Greater Phoenix, consider a dining room with a view. Many restaurants feature open-air patios where you can watch a postcard-perfect sunset or dine beneath desert stars. Among the restaurants with the best winter patios (and creative cuisine) are Bourbon Steak, Café Bink, Cibo, El Chorro, Elements, Kai, Lon’s and Talavera.
4. Ring in the New Year on Mill Avenue.
Stay an extra night to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the Mill Avenue District, which hosts the Fiesta Bowl Block Party. Named one of the top 10 places in the nation to ring in the New Year by USA Today, Mill Avenue each year attracts more than 100,000 people to enjoy to Arizona State University’s entertainment hub. (An insider’s tip: Tempe is linked to Phoenix by METRO light rail, so if you book accommodations in downtown Phoenix or at any hotel on the rail route, it’s possible to take a train to both Sun Devil Stadium and Mill Avenue, thereby avoiding traffic.)
3. Learn something.
Football fans who like a dash of culture with their blitzes and smash routes will not be disappointed by the quality of museums located in Greater Phoenix. A sampling:
• The Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix’s newest must-see attraction, is the first museum in the world dedicated to the celebration of global instruments. Founded by the chairman emeritus of Target Corporation, this $250 million museum features a collection of more than 15,000 instruments—including the last guitar Elvis played in concert and the piano on which John Lennon composed “Imagine.”
• Heard Museum provides fascinating insights into the culture and history of Arizona’s 22 Native American tribes. It features both traditional and contemporary works, including what is perhaps the world’s greatest collection of Kachina dolls. A tip for visitors in search of meaningful souvenirs: The Heard Museum Shop is one of best places in Phoenix to buy authentic American Indian jewelry and art.
• Desert Botanical Garden is a 50-acre outdoor museum that showcases endangered desert species from around the world, including Dali-esque trees from North Africa and sprawling cactuses from Mesopotamia. Through Dec. 30 visitors can purchase tickets to Las Noches de las Luminarias, a Phoenix Christmas tradition in which the garden paths are lined with more than 8,000 hand-lit luminarias.
• If kids designed a museum, it would look like Children’s Museum of Phoenix. This indoor playground features a hanging forest made of foam swimming noodles, a miniature grocery store with scanners and box-filled aisles, and a wooden racecar track that would tickle the fancy of M.C. Esher. And you can touch everything.
2. Play 18 … or 36 … or 54.
The Scottish invented golf, but Phoenicians might have perfected it. Greater Phoenix is home to more than 200 golf courses, many designed by legends of the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Pete Dye. This is desert golf at its best, with emerald-green fairways set against a panorama of rugged mountains and towering cactuses. Some courses occupy canyons where civilization feels a world away, while others are part of opulent resorts where you can relish a “warm golf ball massage” after your round.
1. See one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Phoenix is the gateway to America’s most iconic natural landmark: the Grand Canyon. It’s a 3½ to 4-hour drive to the South Rim, depending on how many scenic stops you make (and there are plenty, with the red rocks of Sedona being a favorite). True wintry weather awaits at the Grand Canyon’s higher elevation, and you might be lucky enough to see this national treasure covered in snow.
For more details about the above attractions, plus information about where to stay and dine in Greater Phoenix how to get around town, Fiesta Bowl fans can log on to www.visitphoenix.com/fiestabowl2012.