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Texas-sized welcome

El Paso impresses Missourians with its experience in serving up hospitality
Friday, December 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:34 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

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Rosie Weilbacher, with the Missouri Color Guard, twirls a rifle along with Marching Mizzou and the Golden Girls in front of Tiger fans before a Sun Bowl team luncheon in downtown El Paso, Texas, on Thursday.

(Photos by Lyle Whitworth/ Missourian)

EL PASO, Texas — Backing up your talk during a football game is one thing; doing so while racing go-karts against three pairs of princesses is another.

Chase Daniel found that out the hard way on Wednesday night in El Paso.

As a part of the Sun Bowl festivities, MU and its opponent, Oregon State, have taken part in several events throughout the week leading to the 1 p.m. kickoff today.

But if you wanted to find out exactly what the Sun Bowl experience was all about, you didn’t have to look farther than the go-kart track at Adventure Zone in El Paso. The players were treated to video games, go-kart races, mini-golf, food and batting cages for the evening.

At the front of the line for one of the evening’s go-kart races was Daniel, MU’s sophomore quarterback. With his teammates all settled into their respective karts and members of the media standing nearby, Daniel issued an open challenge for a race.

“You all can’t handle none of this,” Daniel said.

With the media refusing the challenge, members of the Sun Bowl court stepped in. The Sun Bowl princesses are made up of college-age women who are all El Paso natives. Six of the princesses hopped into three go-karts and the race began.

Daniel trailed the princesses for most of the race. On the last lap, he tried to make a move to pass the cars ahead of him but ended up in a four-kart crash.

“These things need a HANS device,” MU punter Adam Crossett said after the race, referring to the head-and-neck-support device worn as a safety precaution by NASCAR drivers.

Daniel finished last in the race but came out with a smile on his face. Crossett was the winner.

A day later, Crossett’s grandmother, Carrie Funk, watched Marching Mizzou, the Color Guard and the Golden Girls perform outside the Judson F. Williams Convention Center in front of about a hundred fans from MU and Oregon State.

Funk, who is from Columbia and has had MU football season tickets for more than 40 years, is one of about 4,000 to 4,500 MU fans who received tickets from the MU athletics department and are expected to attend today’s game. She traveled to El Paso on a charter-flight package that the University of Missouri Alumni Association set up.

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Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel leads a pack of go-kart racers at Adventure Zone in El Paso. Missourians are praising El Paso’s hospitality.

“We’ve been having a good time, and the people are doing a very good job of welcoming us and making us feel good,” Funk said.

Funk said El Paso is better than Shreveport, La., where the Tigers played last season in the Independence Bowl.

“I think they are more experienced at bowls,” she said.

This year is the 73rd annual Sun Bowl. The bowl is the second oldest, behind only the Rose Bowl, which is in its 93rd year.

Funk isn’t the only one to recognize the hospitality of the Sun Bowl and people of El Paso.

“We are so appreciative of the hospitality here,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “I was here a couple of times before, and it was as good as you can get. But guess what? It’s even better now. The city of El Paso opens up their arms for us.”

The football team arrived on Saturday and was greeted by a mariachi band, folklorico dancers and the Sun Bowl princesses. Players did not receive the same type of attention when arriving for the Independence Bowl last year.

“Not a bash on Shreveport, but this is a huge thing in El Paso, and the people really care about it,” Daniel said.

Mike Alden, Missouri’s director of athletics, said it was great to experience the Sun Bowl’s hospitality firsthand after hearing about it while serving on the bowl certification committee.

“There has always been something consistent about the Sun Bowl, and that is from a hospitality standpoint and a welcoming standpoint, there is probably not a better bowl in the country that does as good a job for the fans, with the teams, the coaches, the staff and all the people associated with it,” Alden said.

Alden said the thing that stands out about the hospitality is the welcoming feeling you get when you come to El Paso.

“The volunteer base in El Paso has really gone out of its way to make people feel part of the community, to learn about the culture that is so special in this part of the country, and to be able to know a lot about the history of this part of the state of Texas,” Alden said.


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