AD Greg Byrne, right, talking to Mike Stoops in Stoops' office before the season, says "we want the bowls to know that we want to be there." GREG BRYAN / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

The phone rang at the Alamo Bowl office. It was Richard Jefferson on the other line. Or, on another occasion, Steve Kerr. Sean Elliott checked in, too.

The former Arizona Wildcats shared the same message with the San Antonio bowl game: The Wildcats would be excited to play here. You should select them.

Jefferson, whose San Antonio Spurs have been in town since Christmas Eve, said he'd be happy to get involved. Former Spurs Kerr and Elliott, legends in San Antonio as much as Tucson, offered their support.

The calls - at the encouragement of UA athletic director Greg Byrne - impressed the Alamo Bowl.

They weren't the main reason the bowl chose the UA over Washington for Wednesday's game against Oklahoma State, but they helped.

The Wildcats flirted; Washington did not.

The comfort level went a long way for the Alamo Bowl.

"It's an arranged marriage for a month," Alamo Bowl vice president Rick Hill said.

UA fans aren't traveling en masse the way they did to Las Vegas or San Diego the past two years. Blame a four-game losing streak and expensive airplane tickets.

But you have to like Byrne's tenacity in getting his school the best game - from guaranteed money to exposure to quality of opponent - that he could.

"We want the bowls to know that we want to be there," Byrne said.

It seemed unlikely the night the UA lost to Arizona State, when an Alamo Bowl representative told me a bowl-eligible Washington would be the game's likely choice.

But, with time, the Alamo Bowl liked the way the UA stacked up against UW nationally. The Wildcats beat the Huskies by 30 earlier this year, but also outclassed them statistically.

The UA ranked No. 24 in total offense, with Washington No. 75. Its No. 36 ranking in total defense trumped Washington's No. 84.

"That's where Arizona really separated itself," Hill said.

Even during selection day, Byrne had his staff prepare pitches to the game highlighting the UA's home and bowl attendance and connections to San Antonio.

The UA has played in the NCAA basketball tournament there. Quarterback Nick Foles is from nearby Austin.

Hill could tell Byrne, in his first year at the UA, came from the Southeastern Conference. There, because most bowl games are within driving distance of conference towns, schools compete vigorously for berths. They prepare 30-page booklets for each bowl. ADs schmooze for weeks.

Arizona, Hill said, produced as much prepared material - from pitches to online ticket-buying software - as the Alamo Bowl had ever seen.

It was 23 years in the making.

The 1987 Oregon football team went 6-5 when Byrne's father, Bill, was athletic director. The Ducks hadn't reached a bowl game since 1963, but found no bowl takers.

Bill Byrne had the school's most famous friends - quarterback Dan Fouts, Nike founder Phil Knight and even the Oregon governor - call the Sun Bowl, which had an at-large vacancy, on its behalf.

It didn't work.

Two years later, however, the 7-4 Ducks talked their way into the Independence Bowl using the same tactics. Fans traveled, Oregon won the game and reached a bowl in two of the following three years.

The Ducks played in the Rose Bowl in 1995.

"If you look back at it," Byrne said, "it was one of the best investments they made."

The lesson, Byrne said, is that each bowl can be a step.

"That's why it's critical for us when we have opportunities that we travel as strong as possible," he said.

Both Hill and the UA know it's tougher to engage fans whose team has lost four games.

"If it's that organized and you get the team on an uptick," Hill said, "we could have made San Antonio, Tucson East."

It won't be, of course. But not for lack of trying.


League play!

1. Adios, Robert Morris and Bethune-Cookman and Idaho State. Hello, challenging basketball. Well, maybe next week. The Arizona Wildcats start Pac-10 play this week at Oregon and Oregon State, probably the two worst teams in the conference.

Alamo Bowl

2. Despite the Wildcats not winning a game since Oct. 30, you have to love this about Wednesday's Alamo Bowl - the nation's top receiver, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, going up against maybe the most underappreciated, Juron Criner.

Break over

3. The UA women's basketball team ends a weeklong break Tuesday with a home game against Iona before starting league play. The Wildcats could be 9-2 entering Pac-10 games - impressive given the fact the UA won only 14 games last season.

More than a name

4. The Tucson Padres are expected to unveil their website, logo and colors at some point this week. As a lifelong San Diego Padres fan, let me suggest the cartoon friar logo, maybe with a "T" behind it. And brown and yellow uniforms, of course.

Take a drive

5. Who needs the expensive national title game Jan. 10? There are two more Phoenix-area bowls - Tuesday's Insight Bowl in Tempe between Missouri and Iowa and Saturday's Fiesta Bowl between UConn and Oklahoma in Glendale.

Contact Patrick Finley at 573-4145 or and follow him on Twitter at