‘I went to see ‘YMCA’ and a football game broke out’: The story of the 2008 Sun Bowl


ASK LEGENDARY BROADCASTER Verne Lundquist about his enduring memory of one of the most infamous bowl games of all time, and steel yourself for the response.

“The Village People,” Lundquist said with his trademark guffaw, without a split-second of hesitation or a hint of irony.

Lundquist was on the mic for the 2008 Sun Bowl, a 3-0 Oregon State win over Pitt that was the lowest-scoring bowl game since a 0-0 tie between TCU and Air Force in 1959.

Between the 20 punts in the game, there was a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records set at halftime when the Village People electrified a crowd of 40,138, recording the largest performance of the “YMCA” dance.

After the game mercifully ended, Lundquist said the real fun began. That’s when the 1970s-vintage band showed up in its 2008 form with six members consisting of the policeman, the Native American, the soldier/sailor, the construction worker, the cowboy and the one member simply described as the “leather man.”

“It’s the last game of the year for CBS,” the 83-year-old Lundquist said, noting he called 11 or 12 Sun Bowl contests before he retired from calling college football games in 2016. “We have a big postgame party. [The Village People] were in the same hotel. And there were quite a few of us who got overserved. When they walked into our party, everybody went nuts. Particularly me. There’s a picture that exists — thank God it’s not on the internet — of me dancing with the Indian with the headdress on. We had our arms around [each other]. My wife [Nancy] had to witness all this.”

It’s just one of the legends of one of the strangest bowl games in history, when an Oregon State team that averaged 32.8 points and a Pitt team that averaged 29.3 combined to score three points.

“I won’t say it was the worst bowl game ever,” Lundquist said. “But you could certainly make the case that it was the most boring.”

In the last game of his college career, Pitt All-American linebacker Scott McKillop remembers it fondly in his own way.

“I guess the joke was ‘I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out,'” McKillop said. “It’s honestly like, ‘I went to see ‘YMCA’ and a football game — if you want to call it a football game — broke out.'”

FOR THE FIRST time since 2008, Oregon State made its way back to El Paso, Texas, this week to play Notre Dame on Friday in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl (2 p.m., CBS).

Like its predecessor 15 years ago, this Beavers team might view the trip as somewhat of a consolation. With two games left in the regular season, Oregon State had a path to the Pac-12 championship game and a New Year’s Six bowl. Instead, it lost to Washington and rival Oregon — and its coach, Jonathan Smith, to Michigan State — and wound up in West Texas.

In 2008, the disappointment might have been worse. A win against Oregon in the final game of the regular season would have secured a share of the Pac-10 title with USC and the school’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1965 (the Beavers owned a tiebreaker after upsetting then-No. 1 USC earlier in the season), but the Beavers fell flat, losing to the Ducks 65-38.

“We were obviously disappointed that we didn’t [beat Oregon] and have a chance to play in the Rose Bowl,” said former Oregon State quarterback Lyle Moevao, who is now an offensive analyst at San Jose State. “But at the same time, I think our coaches did a good job of preparing us and getting us an understanding that as unfortunate as it is to go to El Paso instead of Pasadena, you’ve still got to win the football game.”

It shouldn’t have been boring. Two former NFL head coaches — OSU’s Mike Riley and Pitt’s Dave Wannstedt — were on the sidelines. Both teams were ranked, with Pitt at No. 18 and Oregon State at No. 24.

Under Riley, the Beavers had one of the deepest rosters in program history. Seven OSU players would be selected in the 2009 NFL draft, second only to USC. Their scoring offense ranked third in the Pac-10. But injuries were a problem for the bowl game with brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers — who combined for 50% of OSU’s yards from scrimmage during the regular season (2,515) — unavailable.

Pitt could score too. Future NFL All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and the highest scorer in the country (10.5 points per game) going into the contest. Like McCoy, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and receiver Derek Kinder were drafted in 2009.

But the desert had other plans.

“One thing I do remember about El Paso is it was really, really windy, which is kind of what carried over into the game,” Moevao said. “It was ridiculous. The winds, I want to say they were like up to 40, 50 miles an hour.”

For many players, the lead-up to the matchup was more memorable than the actual game. It turned into a time to let loose.

“I’ll be honest, we went extremely hard,” McKillop said.

Perhaps too hard. With UTEP students away for winter break, the players did their best to make sure local bars didn’t suffer financially, and they paid for it the next day at practice.

“People were throwing up on the sideline. It reeked like a bar,” McKillop said. “[The coaches] were just like, ‘What happened last night?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know. What didn’t?’ Wannstedt told us, ‘Practice is canceled. Go sleep it off.’ They weren’t very happy. Let’s put it that way.”

As is the case during every bowl week, the teams had to attend several collaborative events. This one included a luncheon at Fort Bliss featuring a hypnotist, and on another occasion, a talent show that pitted the two teams against each other.

“They had their punter, David Brytus, a talented guy,” said longtime NFL punter Johnny Hekker, then a freshman for Oregon State. “He was like a black belt in karate. He said something like, ‘I’m David Brytus, I’m the punter for the team and I’m gonna break some boards.’ One of our quarterbacks, Lyle Moevao, stood up and goes, ‘Why?’ A very hilarious moment.”

Pitt kicker Conor Lee said that was just Brytus being Brytus.

“Dave was great, he had a huge leg,” Lee said. “We always joked Dave was a man of many talents, but average at all of them. He’s a punter, he’s a frickin’ UFC fighter, he would go and do long drive contests on the weekends. Professionally, he became a security guard for some famous kid [Austin Mahone, a teen star in the early 2010s].”

And the board-breaking renaissance man was given an opportunity to shine on game day. Even with multiple future NFL players on both offenses, the Sun Bowl quickly devolved into a punt-off between Hekker and Brytus.

“I mean, if you’re a fan of punts, that was your game,” Lundquist said.

The teams combined for 879 yards on the 20 punts, with Pitt registering as many punts as first downs (10). Hekker was named the game’s special teams MVP. He was awarded a comically large trophy to take home, nearly causing him to miss a connecting flight as he hauled it through the Phoenix airport.

“On the ‘SportsCenter’ highlights that night, there wasn’t much offense to show,” Hekker said. “So I think they showed part of the halftime — Guinness World Record.”

WHILE THE GAME was a snoozer, it was fun to stay until “YMCA.” The big prize? A chance to destroy the world record for the largest communal dance to the 1978 hit, which had been set seven years prior when 13,588 fans did it at a Salt Lake Stingers-Omaha Spikes minor league baseball game in Nebraska.

“There was a bit of time there where the Sun Bowl had some decent halftime shows,” said Nick Govea, an attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who grew up in El Paso and went to the Sun Bowl with his family every year, including the historic 2008 edition. “Before she had blown up, Rihanna did the halftime show. Right after her, Los Lonely Boys. They were from West Texas and they were at the peak of their powers.

“But then they got Lee Greenwood to come sing ‘God Bless the U.S.A,’ and it just kind of nosedived after that. Then the Village People. I do remember it being hyped on the local news a lot.”

In advance of the game, the local newspaper, the El Paso Times, even ran a graphic explaining how to do the dance.

Govea said fans treated the second quarter more like halftime, grabbing snacks and drinks to be ready to be back in their seats for the big event.

“The only three points in the game I missed,” Govea said of Justin Kahut’s 44-yard field goal with 2:18 remaining in the second quarter, which happened while he was at a concession stand. “There were dudes who had dressed up in the stands as the Village People who were stretching, getting ready for it.”

But it was worth it once the Village People took the field.

“I remember being in the locker room hearing that and going, ‘Oh man, I’m missing it!'” Hekker said. “Then I saw the footage played back and I’m not sure I missed much.”

Hekker might not have been impressed, but Lundquist was up in the booth doing his part.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Everybody in America was doing it. Gary [Danielson] and I were up there in the booth [dancing].”

That’s right. Among the other superlatives Lundquist has amassed during a legendary career, you can add another one to the list: a world-record holder.

“I’m proud to be a part of it,” Lundquist said. “It’s on my résumé.”

The Village People, meanwhile, were unavailable for comment. “Unfortunately, no Village People member is available to contribute to your article at this time,” a publicist wrote to ESPN via email.

Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said the crowd was whipped into a frenzy. He coached in the press box instead of the field due to the wind and said it took forever to make his way back.

“We went to go back up there and we couldn’t get across [the field],” Bennett said. “I think that the halftime lasted an hour, I swear to goodness. The whole stadium was dancing. It was crazy.”

The attempt took several months of planning and required Sun Bowl officials to submit photographic and video evidence for certification. Officially, the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes that there were 40,148 participants who sang and danced for 5 minutes, 34 seconds.

It’s one of three Guinness World Records that have been set in stadiums in El Paso, along with the world’s largest pecan pie (41,586 pounds at a minor league baseball game in 1999) and the women’s consecutive handsprings record (53 by former UTEP cheerleader JaLyssa Walker during halftime of a UTEP game in 2013).

ONCE THE FOOTBALL resumed, things got decidedly less exciting, with 12 punts coming after the break.

Govea said he and his family left midway through the third quarter amid the boredom. Lundquist and Danielson muddled through a “mind-numbing” and “lethargic” broadcast. “You fall into it,” Lundquist said.

The promise that, eventually, McCoy would break a big run never came through — he finished with 85 yards on 24 carries — and finally, Wannstedt reluctantly trotted out Lee for a 57-yard field goal attempt with 2:08 left, believing that was Pitt’s best chance at scoring.

“If you look at my whole career, I didn’t try one 50-yard field goal,” said Lee, the brother of former NFL linebacker Sean Lee. “I would be like, ‘Why won’t he let me kick?’ I would go back and look at his time as an NFL coach. He didn’t let Olindo Mare kick 50-yard field goals his first year as the coach of the Miami Dolphins, so I was like OK, maybe it’s not me, maybe it’s him. … I walked up to [Wannstedt] and was like ‘Coach, we gotta kick this.’

“And I missed it.”

The official Sun Bowl game story, as well as other articles recapping the game, reported that the kick was short, which really gets Lee steamed. It had enough length, he said. It just didn’t go where he thought it would.

“It was the last kick of my career, so I think I remember it the best,” Lee said. “I turn 40 next year. I have four kids. You think I would have moved on by now.”

Lee, a right-footed kicker, set up on the left hash with a plan to start it right and let the wind sail it home.

“I told myself, I’m not missing this kick left because I’m not pulling this kick like an idiot, shanking it,” Lee said. “I kicked that s— right at the fricking upright. And that s— missed right. The wind just totally betrayed me. It didn’t do a damn thing. I couldn’t believe it.”

Pitt’s best chance of scoring was gone without the wind.

The game has been memorialized over the past 15 years as the worst bowl game ever. Most participants choose to celebrate its general peculiarity.

“I remember it for it being kind of funny,” Govea said. “Mostly to do with just kind of the weird happenstance of people being really pumped for the Village People.”

“My wife still laughs about the Village People deal,” Bennett said.

“It’s all my mom was talking about,” McKillop said. “I was like, ‘Mom, you do realize we lost?’ She said, ‘I don’t care. The halftime show was amazing.'”

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