Husky Alumni and Fans Gather in Phoenix

Amid unseasonably cold local weather, alumni and fans express warm affection for the Huskies.

<p>Photo by Ken Best</p>
Husky fans get together at the tent for the pre-game activity ‘College Football’s Biggest Party.’ Photo by Kenneth Best

Husky alumni from the northeast and southwest filled the greater Phoenix area with all manner of Husky Blue and White, as they celebrated Big East champion UConn’s upcoming first BCS bowl appearance this Saturday in the 40th Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

The team’s headquarters at the Fairmont Scottsdale welcomed the Huskies with signs and team colors, as fans arrived throughout the week after overcoming weather delays from the holiday weekend snowstorms.

Yet even as unseasonably cold weather – including two feet of snow in the Flagstaff area – settled on the desert, alumni and fans expressed their warm affection for the Huskies, who rebounded from early season losses to win the Big East and qualify for a BCS bowl game.

One of the earliest gatherings of alumni occurred Thursday night in Phoenix’s new Musical Instrument Museum, during a reception that was co-sponsored by the UConn Alumni Association and the UConn Foundation. The museum, which contains more than 14,000 instruments and associated objects from around the world, is led by MIM president and director Bill R. DeWalt ’69, who hosted the event.

“We’re pretty excited about the Huskies coming to their first BCS bowl,” said Don Mills, a 1986 MBA alum, who he often gathers with other Husky alumni to watch basketball and football games in the Tucson area where he lives. “I’m very impressed by what Randy Edsall has done. He’s a terrific coach, built a program from scratch to where they are today. It’s hard to believe.”

Joyce Gruger ’78 and her husband Jeff drove through a blizzard from their home in Austin, Texas to attend the game.

“It’s a good thing UConn made it before TCU [Texas Christian University] transferred to the Big East,” she said. “We follow Texas football. TCU will be a problem, a force to be reckoned with in football. Don’t worry about their basketball team.”

Rick Martin ’88, who helps military personnel earn their degrees through online programs at the University of Phoenix, said reaching a BCS bowl game is a significant event for UConn fans.

“I think UConn going to this bowl game is as important as us going to the Sweet 16 in 1989, where I had to tell people: ‘No, not Alaska,’ when I said UConn,” Martin said. “Nobody here knows the UConn fight song, so I have to sing it.”

He added that he has been following the women’s basketball team as well. “Kudos to Geno [Auriemma] and Chris Dailey [for the team’s record number of consecutive wins]. I remember winning five games in a row and thought that was something. That’s incredible to have such talent year in and year out and make it happen.”

Amy Edelen ’93 said she learned about Husky sports when she attended her very first class at UConn.

“Somebody noticed Nadev Henefeld in the class and I didn’t know who he was. From then on I needed to learn about basketball,” she said, admitting that she had not followed the football team so closely until this year. “But I’m here, so it’s a step in the right direction.”

<p>Photo by Ken Best.</p>
UConn fans gather before the game for ‘College Football’s Biggest Party.’ Photo by Kenneth Best

Paul Roshka, a 1972 law alum who attended the reception with his wife and two young daughters from their home in the Phoenix area, said the Fiesta Bowl is an important part of the local community this time of year.

“The area is very excited about this game,” he said. “There is a lot of talk about UConn and the progress it’s made. Everybody’s looking forward to the game. Now that the University has developed a strong program in football, every Sunday morning I check the scores.”

Later in the evening, many of those at the MIM event headed over to the Fairmont to join about 150 Husky faithful watching the women’s basketball team try to extend its winning streak against Stanford, the last team to beat the Huskies.

Cheering the UConn baskets and jeering the referees’ calls that they felt went against Maya Moore and her teammates, the crowd was dressed in assorted UConn shirts and caps. Even as Stanford extended its lead in the final minutes, the crowd kept urging the Huskies on until the game concluded with Stanford’s 71-59 victory, ending the heralded winning streak.

As the final score flashed on the screen, the fans stood and cheered in appreciation of what had been accomplished by the women’s basketball team over the past 90 games and in preparation for the football team’s challenge on New Year’s Day, shouting “Let’s Go Huskies!”