daily californian logo


Welcome to the (March) Madness! Read more here

College football like never before: My Holiday Bowl experience

article image


We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

FEBRUARY 05, 2023

In late December, with most of the country battling a brutal winter storm, a pleasant college football game felt like a faraway occurrence. Fortunately for me, one city did not get the memo. I spent my time in sunny San Diego to take in a historic holiday bowl. 

My day began far away from the football gridiron, enjoying a balmy beach day sea lion spotting in La Jolla. For most of the college football world, a later start time means an opportunity to get some work done, if you’re responsible, or party a little bit longer if you’re not. In San Diego, the extra time year round can easily facilitate a trip to the beach.

In the afternoon I made my way to downtown San Diego a few hours before kickoff. I had an electric matchup in store between Oregon and North Carolina, two historic college athletics programs. After years of quiet Cal games, it was refreshing walking up to the stadium among streets packed with passionate fans. Both schools traveled incredibly well. 

The atmosphere only grew once inside the ballpark — and yes, it was a ballpark. Following the demolition of the former San Diego Chargers stadium and COVID-19 cancellations, this year was the debut of a new venue for the Holiday Bowl: Petco Park, home of the MLB’s San Diego Padres.

From weird and wacky field layouts to the incorporation of unique baseball traditions, there’s something truly novel and exciting about football in a baseball stadium. Although the novelty will surely wear off over time — terrible sightlines for fans and poor quality turf for players were definitely a problem for this game — it was perfect for the occasion. Not to mention the face that Petco Park is a beautiful venue, right along the water with state of the art amenities. 

At most college football games, you might be lucky to get a free t-shirt as a giveaway. For the Holiday Bowl, it was free tickets to SeaWorld, a normally $100-plus excursion. I made good use of the pass later in my trip. 

Following a special flyover where people parachuted onto the field, the game finally commenced. The Ducks entered as the favorite, led by veteran quarterback Bo Nix, but it was the Tar Heels who started hot. 

North Carolina’s freshman quarterback Drake Maye proved why he’ll likely be a top ten pick in next year’s NFL draft and a future NFL star, helping the Heels build a 21-14 lead at halftime. After a dramatic marching band halftime show, we were on to the second half.

Beyond the pomp and circumstance, it was a truly great game of football. There were big time defensive plays and interceptions, explosive offenses and two of the best teams in college football firing on all cylinders. Like most great games, it was a back-and-forth battle that went down to the wire. 

I migrated where I watched from throughout the game, beginning in the press box, then moving down to the enthusiastic Oregon section and finally going on the field for the fourth quarter.

I was positioned right at North Carolina’s 10 yard line, which put me in the perfect spot to watch Nix convert a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-two with 19 seconds left, sending the Ducks to a dramatic 28-27 victory. 

As the field was filled with players, media and Oregon fans for the trophy ceremony, I experienced the highlight of my memorable night as a firework show lit up the sky above. A few notable Ducks alumni were in attendance, including Phil Knight — the founder of Nike with a $35 billion dollar net worth — and Justin Herbert, star NFL quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Luckily I’m pretty good with faces, and Knight also had a name tag, so I got to meet, chat and take a picture with each of them. 

It was a truly special night of college football, unlike any game I’ve ever seen before or will likely see again. I’m glad I got to experience it. 

Contact Benjamin Coleman at 


FEBRUARY 05, 2023