DETROIT - On Christmas Eve, Tom Amstutz should be home wearing the fuzzy slippers, sitting next to the fire, and clutching a mug of something hot and frothy.
Instead, the University of Toledo football coach is barnstorming the sidelines at Ford Field, chewing on a whistle, and barking out commands. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"If you are still playing football at this time of year, then you have to be happy about that," Amstutz said after yesterday's practice indoors at Ford Field, home of the NFL Detroit Lions.
"That's why you work so hard in spring ball, and in camp in August, and then throughout the season - to get a chance to play in a bowl in late December.
"This is a bonus for our players and our program - to be practicing on Christmas and lookingforward to playing in a bowl game a couple of days later."
Amstutz said that no matter how many trips you make into the post-season, it never loses its luster. He lives it vicariously through their eyes, their smiles, and their emotions as the Rockets make final preparations for Monday's Motor City Bowl meeting with Connecticut.
"You never get tired of this, because it is one of the major goals of any football team - to play in a bowl game," he said. "You see the players having so much fun, and you know it is an experience they will have with them the rest of their lives."
Amstutz said a football team is likely never closer than it is during the bowl experience. During normal road trips, teams spend all of their time preparing or playing, but a bowl allows room for other, lighter fare.
"Bowls are great fun for the players, and as coaches it gives us a chance to be with our seniors one more time," Amstutz said.
"You are around these young men a lot for four or five years and you don't want to see that end, so it is nice to experience all of the activities and events surrounding the bowl game one more time."
The team will dine in one of Detroit's finest establishments, take in an NFL game, venture out for a few frames of bowling, and see a movie. The daily practice time fits into the schedule, as well.
"A bowl is a responsibility and a reward," Amstutz said. "The responsibility is to show what your championship team can do, one more time, and it's the chance to get to play with your winning seniors. The reward is all of the nice things that go with it. We still get the work in and make sure we'll be prepared for the game, but once that is done there is still time for some fun."
UT senior wide receiver Lance Moore, playing in his second Motor City Bowl at Ford Field, said Amstutz isn't the only one relishing the holiday bowl.
The Rockets came back from a disastrous 0-2 start to finish 9-3 and win the Mid-American Conference championship.
"Sure, everybody misses the family Christmas and all that goes with it, but we consider the bowl game to be a once in a lifetime experience, because every one of them is different," Moore said. "This is a Christmas present for this team that worked so hard for so long to get here. And we'll be talking about this Christmas for a lot of years to come."
Detroit native David Thomas, who is also playing in a second bowl game, said he was happy to bring his teammates to his hometown, and hopes they'll put on a show on Monday.
"This is a great experience for me, and a great honor for me," the junior linebacker said. "Some teams are excited just to be in a bowl game, and we're definitely excited to be here, but that is not enough. We've come so far this season, and now we want to take in all of the activities surrounding the bowl, but after that we really want to win this thing."
Amstutz said he wants the players to enjoy themselves to the point that they expect to be back in a bowl game next year, and then the year after that.
"We've got a winning tradition established, and you hope that our players expect to play in this kind of game every year," Amstutz said. "As a program, you want to establish some major goals, and you want a league championship and a bowl game to be part of the plan each time. It takes a lot of work to get here, but you want to see your players make that kind of commitment year after year."
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