Owls land in Memphis for Liberty Bowl events and preparations

The day after Christmas is typically a quiet time on the Rice University campus, but this year – like last year – the football Owls were making some noise.

Outside venerable Rice Stadium, head football coach David Bailiff and his staff loaded the team and gear onto five buses for a caravan to Houston’s Hobby Airport and then a flight to Memphis, Tenn., for the 55th AutoZone Liberty Bowl’s pregame events, practice and festivities leading up to the New Year’s Eve game.

Bailiff took a break outside Rice Stadium to meet with Houston media before embarking on the team’s quest for the university’s first-ever 11-win season and back-to-back bowl victories.

When Bailiff was asked about the trip being like an extended Christmas, he said, “We have on the itinerary when it’s time to go to work and when it’s time to play. They understand that this is a business-pleasure trip. We want to have fun. We want to create memories. But we’re going to (Memphis to) win a football game.

“Yesterday was Christmas, but all you could think about is rolling out today. It’s a unique time, it’s a fun time and we’re ready to roll to Memphis.”

Photo courtesy: Tommy LaVergne/Rice University

The team took off from Hobby around 3 p.m. for the short one-hour, 10-minute flight. After arriving at the Hilton Memphis Hotel around 5:30 p.m., Bailiff held his first AutoZone Liberty Bowl event – a media availability with Memphis news reporters.

Bailiff’s staff had everything working like clockwork today. After everyone was checked into their rooms, the players and staff had some time to get acclimated before a team dinner in the hotel’s banquet room. Before dinner was served, Bailiff gave a few brief remarks but primarily used the opportunity to give thanks. He said, “If you’re in this room, it’s because you were a big part of our success this season. Thank you for what you have done and for being here with us in Memphis.”

With that, dinner was on — a full holiday-style turkey and ham dinner with all the fixings. Before dinner was over, Bailiff had one more announcement to make: It was equipment manager T-Joe Breaux’s birthday. So over dessert, and just before their first Memphis team meeting, the Owls were in perfect pitch with a warm “Happy Birthday to You” for Breaux.

The Owls will play Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at 3 p.m. Dec. 31. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Rice News will be posting daily stories, videos and pictures of the Owls’ adventures in Memphis and game preparations on its Liberty Bowl Central page. A list of alumni watch parties across the country can be found here. If you tweet about the Owls during bowl week, please use the hash tag #RiceFight.

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.