Money Talks

Money, as we all know, can't buy you love. But in Houston media circles, it can buy you respect. If any proof of that was needed, it's been provided in the past few weeks by the fawning hype devoted to the ridiculous Bowl.

The man behind the bowl was, of course, Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale, who's unavoidable as a furniture pitchman. But it's precisely because McIngvale spends millions on print, TV and radio ads in order to make himself unavoidable that every media outlet in Houston tried mightily to treat the Bowl as a legitimate event.

Breathes there a nonalumnus soul alive who might have actually given a damn about Texas Tech playing East Carolina University? We've yet to find him.

The nation's sporting press was decidedly unimpressed. Writers from Oregon to Florida had huge fun lampooning the idea of something called the Bowl, not to mention the idea that the country needed another bowl game, not to mention the idea of a bowl game between schools with season records of 7-5 and 7-4.

"Can you say " Bowl' and not grin sarcastically?" wrote Ted Miller of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The bowl-selection process, wrote the Chicago Tribune, "breeds dreadful matchups -- sorry if you think East Carolina vs. Texas Tech is anything other than dreadful."

The inaugural Bowl, said the San Antonio Express-News, was "the grand stinker of them all" and "could be as exciting as shopping for end tables." (Of course, the Express-News was busy pimping for the Alamo Bowl.)

It's the same kind of thing Houston Chronicle writers and local TV and radio guys have been saying for years about obscure bowls. This year's Chronicle preview of the bowl season dutifully made fun of the Humanitarian Bowl and the Motor City Bowl.

But not the Bowl, of course. (The roundup tabbed the McIngvale game as one of the "best of the rest," on a par with the Cotton Bowl or Gator Bowl.)

There was much glowing coverage in the days leading up to the December 27 game. McIngvale showed up everywhere, and was the subject of a long profile and accompanying column in the December 24 edition of the Sunday Chronicle. "[V]irtually every decision McIngvale made became golden," columnist John P. Lopez wrote. "Much of what helped Mac get to this point, he says, is based on principles he learned long ago on football fields in Dallas, Austin and Denton: Hustle."

Listening or watching the interviews, or reading the pregame accounts, made it clear that two seemingly mutually exclusive conditions could in fact coexist: one, that Houston was really, really fired up about having the Bowl; and two, that plenty of good seats were still available.

And by "plenty," they really meant plenty. At one pregame press conference it was announced that 28,000 tickets had been sold; two weeks later officials announced that actually only 4,200 tickets had yet been purchased. According to the Chronicle story on the new ticket figure, McIngvale heard the 28,000 figure while at the initial December 7 press conference and was "incredulous." The story quoted McIngvale as calling it "a rather outlandish figure," and that he did some research "over the next 24 hours" and determined that the count was actually 4,200.

A count that he apparently kept to himself for two weeks, a point the Chron didn't bother to mention.

Eventually official attendance was listed as 33,899; the Chron said, "actual attendance appeared to be around 25,000," and a quick glimpse on TV showed it to be probably well short of that. And how many of those in attendance had gotten freebies is, of course, impossible to determine.

But the ticket snafu wasn't the best moment in the hype machine. The best moment came with the story bannered across the front of the Metro section December 27, headlined "Bowl Crowd Warms Up with Big Music Bash: Tonight, Postseason College Football Is Back."

The lead on that story: "Despite rainy weather, several hundred people flocked to Bayou Place on Tuesday night for a country music bash to warm up for tonight's inaugural Bowl at the Astrodome."

"Several hundred people"? Can "several hundred people" actually "flock" anywhere? Bayou Place has restaurants, bars and a movie theater in the middle of downtown. You'd get several hundred people there if it was just commuters heading for their parked cars, for crissake. Take off the standard 30 percent Chronicle overestimation of crowds at any Houston event, and you've got a "crowd" that would rival an off day at the Museum of Printing History.

And hey, news desk -- it's now the Reliant Astrodome, as the sports section keeps telling us. We'd like to think that calling it by its old, non-corporate-naming-rights handle was a small act of rebellion.

Instead, we're betting a memo went out the next day after Reliant's PR people called to complain.

I Got My Job Through the Chronicle

The Houston Chronicle, June 6, 1999: a news story by Austin bureau reporter Kathy Walt on the first term of then-lieutenant governor, now Governor Rick Perry. The headline: "Jobs Well Done: Senators Give Perry High Marks After Starting with Low Expectations."

"Viewed by skeptics as little more than a pretty face," Walt wrote, "expectations of Rick Perry were low, at least according to one senator. But with the recent close of the 140-day lawmaking marathon, Perry's first -- and perhaps his only -- session at the helm of the Texas Senate has earned him high praise from Democrats and Republicans alike.… At 49, this former state representative, state agriculture commissioner, Air Force pilot and die-hard Aggie is the first Republican to serve as lieutenant governor in 100 years.…With the session now behind him, Perry says it was a successful one, even historic with the passage of record increases in school funding and in tax cuts for businesses and consumers. But Perry does not claim personal credit for the victories."

The Houston Chronicle, December 23, 2000: Rick Perry, the new governor of Texas, announces his staff. His press secretary: Kathy Walt, former Chronicle reporter.


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