PHOENIX — Kansas State University coach Bill Snyder looked out over the sea of 25,000, purple-clad fans in front of him Wednesday afternoon at a pep rally in downtown Phoenix and delivered a message that seems to always ring true when the Wildcats play in a postseason bowl game.
Some people might be surprised at (the size of the crowd), but not me, Snyder said. You see our team walk out under the sign that says family and you define what that means.
K-State fans filled up the lower infield seats, left field bleachers and part of the outfield upper deck at Chase Field home of the Arizona Diamondbacks as Snyder and the Wildcats came out to greet them in advance of Thursday nights Fiesta Bowl between No. 5 Oregon and No. 7 K-State at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Wildcat fans overwhelmed a Major League Baseball park for the second year in a row: at least 15,000 came out last January to The Ballpark at Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, before K-States Cotton Bowl loss to Arkansas.
Pep rallies are special moments for K-State fans, athletic director John Currie said. Of all the things Ive experienced at K-State, these are the times when the power of the K-State Nation really takes hold for me.
Currie said that K-State sold 22,000 tickets to the Fiesta Bowl out of its ticket office, more than the 17,500 allotted to it by bowl officials. The school got more tickets from the Fiesta Bowl and from Oregon. Currie said he expects between 30,000 and 40,000 fans at the game itself. The stadium holds 63,400.
The Arnold family made the trip to Phoenix to spend Christmas together something they do whenever K-State has a bowl game.
Sedgwick County Clerk Kelly Arnold and his parents, Bob and Marge, met up in the Phoenix area with his brother Robs family, including his three young children. Rob Arnold, who used to work in television and radio in Wichita, is now the manager of ballpark operations at San Diegos Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
My dad took me to the Independence Bowl to watch K-State when I was young, Kelly Arnold said. Its a family tradition.
Bob Arnold said he remembers going to his first K-State football game in 1963.
I remember the lean years, he said. Some years we were happy if we sniffed .500; some years the only thing we could win was the coin flip.
Wednesdays festivities had their share of star power, including Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor Eric Stonestreet, a K-State alum who gave a rousing speech laced with jokes, of course. He later spoke to an alumni dinner of 2,600 afterward in the outfield.
Gov. Sam Brownback, former K-State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Michael Bishop and current Kansas City Chief Tysyn Hartman, a Wichita native and former K-State safety, were also in attendance.
I want to take every opportunity to tell people what a great town Manhattan is and what a great institution K-State is, said Stonestreet, who is on the ABC hit comedy Modern Family.
My co-star Ty Burrell is a big Oregon fan, so were honorary captains ... which means we have absolutely no responsibility.
Snyder and K-States five team captains quarterback Collin Klein, center B.J. Finney, linebacker and Wichita native Arthur Brown, safety Ty Zimmerman and special-teams captain Jared Loomis all spoke.
Coach Snyder said it best: (fans) are truly an extension of our family, Brown said. Thank you all so much for your loyalty and your commitment.
Zimmerman, from Junction City, got the biggest reaction from the crowd when he took a shot at Oregons famous uniform changes.
Were excited to introduce our new uniforms tomorrow, Zimmerman said. Theyve got a Tostitos patch on the shoulder.