It’s already considered one of the biggest sporting events to hit the Valley every year.
But this season, there’s added anticipation.
When Clemson University and Ohio State University meet at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on Dec. 28, the winner gets its ticket punched to the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans on Jan. 7.
In the meantime, though, Scottsdale is a clear winner.
Both teams stay in Scottsdale hotels and practice at schools in the city. And to add to the city and practice at schools here
“The atmosphere here is crazy every week,” said Jennifer O’Donnell, the owner of K O’Donnell’s Sports Bar & Grill in Scottsdale – the go-to spot for Clemson alumni and fans to take in weekly Tiger football the last few years.
“It also helps Clemson is a good team that wins a lot of games,” O’Donnell added. “But we are expecting an even bigger turnout with this game.”
K O’Donnell’s, near Hayden Road and Raintree Drive in northern Scottsdale, became Tiger City when a member of the Clemson alumni group became a frequent patron. When an alumni association watch party was abruptly canceled, the patron led them to K O’Donnell’s.
This season, as Clemson returns to the destination it won its first national title of the College Playoff Era, O’Donnell’s is preparing to host the national branch of the Clemson alumni association.
“They will be headquartered here,” O’Donnell said. “It will be a fun atmosphere. We are expecting things to be on another level than last year with the game here.”
K O’Donnell’s frequently holds fundraisers and raffles during the season for Clemson fans frequenting the restaurant for games each week. The walls inside are generally outfitted with Clemson gear to make fans feel at home.
Clemson fans will also have the opportunity to rally their team the day before the game on Friday, Dec. 27 at the W Scottsdale Hotel. It’s there the Legends of Clemson party will take place at 9 p. m. In the past, Clemson standout players such as Brentson Buckner, Mackensie Alexander and Deandre Hopkins have attended.
While some Clemson fans will head to Glendale to watch the game in person, others will fill K O’Donnell’s to cheer their team on in hope of reaching the national title game. Just over 11 miles south of K O’Donnell’s in Old Town Scottsdale, Ohio State fans will be doing the same for the Buckeyes.
“These fans are unbelievable, they come every week,” said Charlie Brooks, the general manager of Bottled Blonde. “I mean, they come for the Rutgers and the Maryland games where those teams are getting blown out by 60.
“Even then, we still have as many as 250 people every week and it’s the same who have been coming the last five years.”
Brooks formed a relationship with Kevin Fox, at the time the president of the Ohio State Alumni Club of Phoenix when he worked as a bartender at American Junkie, which closed in 2014. It was at this time Brooks moved to Bottled Blonde.
Fox and the rest of the Ohio State alumni followed.
“We try to create a family atmosphere,” Brooks said. “All of our bartenders know everyone by name. After every touchdown, we are throwing out jello shots and everyone does the ‘O-H’ chant. It really is awesome.”
Brooks and the rest of the Bottled Blonde staff have thought about hosting a rally outside of Bottled Blonde on Friday, Dec. 27, the day before Ohio State’s game against Clemson.
A similar rally was held in year’s past, with as many as 3,000 Ohio State fans attending. This year, should they be able to host the event, they anticipate as many as 7,000 fans showing up.
“It’s like you’re literally in Columbus, Ohio,” Brooks said. “This is I think by far the best atmosphere for die-hard Ohio State fans.”
It’s not just the fans of Clemson and Ohio State expected to take over Scottsdale and the rest of the Valley the week leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. The teams will, too.
A 20-year contract between the Fiesta Bowl and Experience Scottsdale makes the city the official home for the two teams during their stay for the game. Both teams, bands, fans and media stay at two of the hotels in Scottsdale or Paradise Valley.
“Each year, the bowl games bring incredible exposure to the Scottsdale-area, introducing thousands of visiting fans and corporate sponsors to Scottsdale’s offerings,” Stephanie Pressler, the director of community affairs for Experience Scottsdale, said in an email. “This opportunity comes during a need period for our local tourism industry, filling thousands of room nights and giving our hotels and resorts a much-needed boost in occupancy.
“Plus, Scottsdale hospitality businesses benefit from the influx of football fans this time of year, as those traveling with their teams explore the area’s restaurants, bars, shops and attractions before and after the games.”
Scottsdale schools also are put to use during the Fiesta Bowl.
The Tigers and Buckeyes were scheduled to hold their first practice in Arizona yesterday, Dec. 24 – two days after landing here.
Ohio State, which has become a frequent visitor in year’s past, will practice at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale for the duration of their stay in the Valley. Clemson, meanwhile, will practice at Saguaro High School.
“The last 2 years we had LSU and Penn State here,” said Mark Cisterna, Notre Dame Prep’s athletic director. “The year before I got here, we had Urban Meyer and Ohio State. It’s pretty cool, the Fiesta Bowl comes in and overseeds our practice fields in October. We have to basically shut it down, none of our teams are able to use it until after the Fiesta Bowl.
“They overseed it, fertilize it and paint it.”
Notre Dame Prep and the Fiesta Bowl Committee agreed on an 8-year contract for the school to host one of the teams playing in the annual bowl game each year. This year marks the 4th year in the contract.
The campus is shut down for the week the team uses the facility. Luckily, it comes during a time students are on Christmas break. However, none of Notre Dame’s teams are able to practice on campus.
While Ohio State uses Notre Dame’s facilities, Clemson will practice at nearby Saguaro High School.
The 2019 Fiesta Bowl kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 28 at 6 p.m. from State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
The winner of the game between second-ranked Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson moves on to face the winner of the Peach Bowl between top-ranked LSU and No. 4 Oklahoma in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans, LA. on Monday, Jan. 7.