ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Typically they get noticed for one of two reasons: Their man just blew by them to sack the quarterback, or they got flagged for a penalty.
Other than that, the most you generally hear about an offensive lineman is when an NFL version tells you what college he attended during pregame introductions.
Those are very rare from fans or media.
Skill players, however, are typically quick to give the big beefy boys up front credit after a big game. And coaches seldom heap praise on a quarterback or running back without acknowledging the O-line.
But few give out the props like Washington Sate coach Mike Leach, who says he sometimes ruffles a few peacock players’ feathers with his treatment of the guys up front.
“I coached O-line for 10 years, and I’m very biased,” says Leach, whose Cougars (6-6) face Colorado State (7-6) on Saturday in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most important position out there,” Leach added. “It’s always a big priority for me. If guys feel like we treat the O-line position better than any other out there, I don’t care. If you want to have that status, be an O-lineman. If you want to be treated like one, go with one, and maybe I’ll treat you like that.”
WSU offensive line coach Clay McGuire, who played and coached at Texas Tech when Leach was head coach there, says his boss “understands everything about those positions. It means a lot that he is absolutely as supportive as you can be.”
SOMETIMES IT’S NOT BAD TO RECEIVE: It’s a time for gift-giving, and the New Mexico Bowl has done just that for the Cougars and Rams.
Executive director Jeff Siembieda says the NCAA allows bowl games to hand out $550 worth of merchandise to each player in a bowl game, and his contest gives each Ram and Cougar the limit.
Siembieda said players are given Oakley backpacks, sunglasses and a beanie and a Gildan blanket “so they will have something tangible that’s branded with the game, but we also let them go shopping and pick out their own electronics. We have the suite gift night, which has also turned into a nice event for the teams.”
That night came on Wednesday when both WSU and CSU players were taken to the Sheraton Albuquerque Airport and allowed to pick out gifts. Each player is given tickets worth five points. The items, which include televisions, Wii games, mini phone chargers, warm-up suits, watches and more, are given point values between one and five.
Players can use their points any way they choose, and the gifts then get mailed to their homes.
MORE GIVING: Immediately after the first quarter of Saturday’s game, Wells Fargo and the Military Warriors Support Foundation will present retired Army Sgt. Stephen Rose and his family a fully renovated, mortgage-free home located in Albuquerque.
Rose received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained while performing combat operations in Afghanistan. He is an Albuquerque native and served in the Army from 2005-2011.
Wells Fargo has committed to $30 million in home donations to veterans nationwide over the past three years.
Jennifer Riordan, Wells Fargo’s vice president/community and media relations for the New Mexico-El Paso region, says it’s the third home the company has given to a local veteran (two Albuquerque, one El Paso).
LOCAL BOOST: Siembieda says Saturday’s game has the potential to attract the most out-of-towners to Albuquerque of any contest in the bowl’s eight-year history.
As part of the teams’ agreement to play in the bowl, the Pac-12 team (Washington State) must purchase 5,000 tickets and the Mountain West Conference team (Colorado State) 10,000 tickets.
Siembieda said Washington State has nearly sold its allotment to fans and Colorado State has sold more than 6,000.
“CSU will also donate some tickets to the military and various charities here locally,” Siembieda said. “I believe the most out-of-town fans we’ve had was the BYU-UTEP game, about 14(000)-to-15,000 in 2010, and this could equal that. I talked to the Sheraton, the Hyatt, the Hilton Garden Inn and they aren’t expecting to have an open room (tonight).”
Damen Kompanowski, general manager at the Sheraton Uptown, said his property has been sold out since Tuesday, and his and other hotels are working together to help fans find rooms.
“We were actually getting calls from Washington State fans even before the bowl was announced,” Kompanowski told the Journal. “We’re real fortunate, because they (the Cougars) haven’t been to a bowl game in 10 years and there is a great deal of interest.
“It’s great for the whole city. We’ve all been trying to find every fan a room because everybody is filling up.”