Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
The first and most important rule of bowl games is to wear your purple or your green or your crimson or your black or your gold, depending, of course, on your school of choice.
I’m a purple, though, and when I pack to follow my Kansas State Wildcats to a bowl game, I pull out every purple thing I own.
It’s not hard to find reasons to go to a bowl game. You go for a football game, of course, or for a mid-winter vacation in a warm place. My trip last week to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl was certainly a welcome reprieve from sub-zero Steamboat.
Those aren't the real reasons, however. As it turns out, it’s that first rule that sums it up. I go to wear my purple because that symbolizes who I am.
There’s no one thing I identify with more in my life than Kansas State University. There’s little that makes me more proud than seeing Kansas State succeed on the national stage.
The university is the most prominent representation of who I am and where I’m from.
It represents my family.
My parents met there, in a bar on the corner in the town’s busiest drinking district. I followed in their footsteps, graduating in 2004, and my younger brother did the same, finishing in 2008.
It represents my childhood.
Some of my earliest memories swirl around attending basketball games in Manhattan, where the school is located, and my parents jumped on the Bill Snyder bandwagon early, buying season tickets and hauling me three hours to home football games on countless fall Saturdays.
It represents where I’m from.
K-State is a university that represents the entire state of Kansas, drawing heavily from both the small, rural towns around the state and the densely populated counties around Wichita and Kansas City. I grew up a bit in the middle, farming outside a rural town but within a short drive of the state’s largest city.
There’s a small-town charm to K-State and Manhattan that can’t be escaped. That much was obvious even as I was most of the way back to Steamboat on Friday, riding the shuttle to the cheap lots at Denver International Airport.
There had been more than 30,000 of us in Phoenix leading up to the game, swarming down the highways into town, packing area bars and restaurants and filling the region’s tourist attractions, be it the Grand Canyon to the north, cactus-lined hiking trails outside the city, or even Phoenix Suns games in the days before the bowl.
There were hundreds at the city’s airport the morning after the game. There were dozens on my flight to Denver, and there were five of us on that shuttle, all still decked out in purple. Turns out, two who had never met grew up separated by several generations but only a few miles, on adjacent farms.
It’s a small world at K-State.
It represents me.
Kansas State isn’t just a T-shirt I wear, the team I root for or even the degree on my wall. When I go to a bowl game, I feel that in full effect. It’s my friends. It’s my family. It’s where I’m from, and when we’re all there together, we are a part of a sea of purple — and I couldn’t feel more at home.
I hope there’s a place out there everyone can feel similarly at peace.