EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The ongoing immigration crisis and the activities of the drug cartels across the border put El Paso in the national limelight several times in 2021.

But on Friday, the city has a chance to show its good face to the country thanks to the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.

“It puts El Paso in a positive national light all over the country. That’s good because most of the time that El Paso is in the national news, it’s usually not good,” said Sun Bowl Association Executive Director Bernie Olivas. “But for four hours, CBS is going to do a tremendous job, as they always do, of promoting our city and entice people to come and visit us here. We have a tremendous city.”

Kickoff for the college football game between Washington State University and Central Michigan is at noon Eastern Time at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Sun Bowl Stadium. In years past, CBS has displayed aerial views of the stadium, UTEP and some of the city’s landmarks.

The game has a $14 million to $25 million impact on El Paso, as out-of-town visitors fly or drive in, stay in hotels, eat out, shop local stores, rent cars or pump gas.

“When someone calls to rent a van, stay in a hotel, I try to spread them around … recommend hotels all around the city so everyone can get a piece of this,” Olivas said. “Same with restaurants. It’s impossible to go to a Mexican restaurant here and have a bad meal; I think everyone in El Paso can attest to that. So, yes, it’s very important for our economic development and our community.”

Folklorico dancers and a mariachi band welcomed Washington State University players to El Paso last Sunday. (KTSM photo)

The Sun Bowl Association called off the 2020 game at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 game to be played Friday almost didn’t happen – again, due to COVID-19.

The University of Miami Hurricanes pulled out of the game on Sunday after several of its players joined an already lengthy list of COVID-positive athletes and staff.

Image courtesy Sun Bowl Association

Late Monday, the Sun Bowl got a commitment from Central Michigan and the Mid-American Conference to take Miami’s place. The change means a $2 million-plus payout for the MAC, as opposed to the $175,000 it was scheduled to get from Central Michigan playing in the Arizona Bowl – which was canceled Monday after Boise State University pulled out due to many players testing positive for COVID-19.

“It would have been devastating not to have the game two years in a row,” Olivas said. “Two years in a row. It could have killed us.”

He said the Sun Bowl not only exposes football fans from across the United States to the friendliness and natural attractions of El Paso – such as its sunny weather and mild winters – but also makes a lasting impression on the players, coaching staff and fans of the teams that come to El Paso.

“When you get off that airplane and that welcome reception, it’s abundantly clear how much this event means for the people of El Paso,” said Washington State Director of Athletics Pat Chun. “We are 100% committed to the Sun Bowl, we are 100% committed to El Paso, we’ve got families coming here … we’re grateful to have this opportunity.”

Chun said Washington State’s contingent would have been more numerous, but the school canceled a charter flight for its band and spirit team due to the possibility of not finding a replacement for Miami.

“Bowl games are earned, and our guys have earned this opportunity,” he said of playing in Friday’s Sun Bowl.

Olivas is hopeful that the national attention garnered by the possible cancelation of the game and the drama of having found a last-minute replacement will be reflected in good TV ratings for the Sun Bowl.

The fact that the national college football semifinals will be played later in the day means football fans all over the country will be tuned to their televisions most of the day. That, he said, may prompt some to check out the Sun Bowl and get a glimpse of what El Paso is really about.