DALLAS — The aroma of smoked brisket wafted through the air as giant Texas flags took on a familiar shade of green Wednesday in the parking lots at the Cotton Bowl, where the University of North Texas faced the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Tailgating is something many feel is a football tradition, and the celebrations — some starting hours before the 11 a.m. kickoff — were just the beginning of a long round of festivities after UNT became bowl champions with a win over UNLV 36-14.
Greg Price and his wife, Julie, spent the night at the Omni Dallas Hotel with their two daughters to ensure they had a nice spot for pre-game activities where an estimated 20 former UNT football players passed through.
Price, who played for UNT in 1993 and 1994, said the Heart of Dallas Bowl was his fifth bowl game. He attended all four New Orleans bowls in which his alma mater played from 2001-04.
“I’m just excited to be here,” said Price, head football coach of Liberty Christian School. “This is what you hope to do on Jan. 1 if you are a college football fan. ... It’s not the Cotton Bowl, but it’s at the Cotton Bowl and I am just hoping they can pull off a nine-win season.”
Win, they did.
Quicker than the players could pour Gatorade over UNT head coach Dan McCarney, a sea of fans decked out in green and white flooded out of the stadium while continuously chanting “North Texas” in celebration of the victory.
“Awesome game,” proclaimed 1989 UNT grad Greg Bristow. “I’ll be celebrating all the way home.”
For Margaret Featherstone, this win did much more than put Denton on the map — it was a victory the players desperately deserved after all of their hard work this season.
Featherstone, who works at the front desk of Victory Hall — where UNT players are required by coaches to reside for the first two years — knows “the boys” personally.
“I’m just really full of excitement and proud to be part of this team,” she said. “Coach McCarney really put together a team of such high character and I’m glad to see these boys go as far as they have.”
A win this big might bring the team an increase in ticket sales next season, some supporters predicted, while one fan said recent ankle surgery wasn’t going to stop her from enjoying this moment with her husband.
“It was amazing,” exclaimed Megan Coza, a recent UNT graduate, as she left the game in a wheelchair pushed by her husband, Dan.
“It was a heck of a game. … Keep playing like that and we might become season ticket holders,” Dan Coza said as they faded into the parking lot along with other members of the Mean Green Nation.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.