It took about five minutes for Greg Byrne to get to the point.
The point that Arizona was in a bowl game for the fourth straight season, something that’s never been done in UA history.
For five minutes, Arizona’s athletic director fielded questions at the Hilton El Conquistador resort about the much-publicized process that saw coach Rich Rodriguez interview to be the coach at South Carolina and, apparently, receive a formal offer.
Finally, if briefly, Byrne stopped the line of questioning.
“One thing,” he said, “we are playing in the New Mexico Bowl.”
Forgive the distraction — Rodriguez has dominated the news cycle in Tucson in recent days with his South Carolina flirtation, but Saturday night Rodriguez reaffirmed his stance as Arizona’s coach. So now he can prepare for the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
Arizona will play in the same bowl game it won in 2012 against Nevada, this one against the hometown New Mexico Lobos. The game will take place on Dec. 19 at noon and will be televised on ESPN.
“We’re excited for that,” Rodriguez said.
The Wildcats will return to practice on Monday night and plan to fly out to Albuquerque on Dec. 16, three days before the game.
Similar to the 2012 game, loyal Wildcats fans will have a chance to attend an Arizona doubleheader — the football game is at noon, then back in Tucson, the men’s basketball team will tip off against UNLV at 7:30 p.m. at McKale Center.
In 2012, the UA followed up the football win against Nevada with a down-to-the wire win against a ranked Florida team later that night.
“We know some people did both last time,” Byrne said. “We want to encourage everybody we can to make sure they’re at the bowl game that afternoon.”
Byrne said that the Wildcats also came close to playing in the Armed Forces or Heart of Dallas bowl games in Texas, and even flirted with bowl games in San Diego (Poinsettia), Memphis (Liberty) and Shreveport, Louisiana (Independence), but ultimately felt that a return to New Mexico was the right choice.
There was “some discussion” for playing in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tucson on Dec. 29, “but I don’t think it made sense on either side,” Byrne said. “The Arizona Bowl’s financial model is a little different than most, so for what they were putting together compared to what our other options were, we felt the right thing for University of Arizona was to go to Albuquerque and we’re pleased with that.”
So the Wildcats will return to a spot that produced one of the more thrilling finishes to a game in Rodriguez’s four years as Arizona’s coach.
In it, the Wildcats trailed Nevada 45-28 heading into the fourth quarter, then outscored the Wolf Pack 21-3 in the final period to complete a comeback and win 49-48.
“Without question, (the 2012 game was) one of the most thrilling finishes I’ve ever had the chance to coach in,” Rodriguez said.
Added receiver Johnny Jackson, one of eight Wildcats remaining who played in the 2012 game: “It was an epic game last time, and we look forward to going back.”
For senior Will Parks, who played a reserve role as a true freshman in 2012, the final game of his UA career will be something of a family reunion, too.
Delane Hart-Johnson, Parks’ brother, is a sophomore receiver with New Mexico and has caught 10 balls for 235 yards and a touchdown this season for the 7-5 Lobos.
“We’ve been running around together since we were little kids,” Parks said, “and now we’re basically playing against each other for the first time … It’s go time now.”