SAN ANTONIO — Sage advice from a Port Angeles connection led to a life-long career in big-time college football for another former Roughrider, Derrick Fox.
Fox, a 1982 Port Angeles High School graduate, serves as president and CEO for the Valero Alamo Bowl, an annual NCAA bowl game that pits a Pac-12 Conference representative with a Big-12 counterpart.
He will speak to Port Angeles’ Nor’Wester Rotary Club via a Zoom call at 7 a.m. today.
Area fans should be familiar with the contest as Washington and Washington State have played in the Alamo Bowl in the past decade, with the Huskies making the trip in 2011 and the Cougars beating Iowa State in 2018.
Fox has been with the Alamo Bowl since it’s inception, joining the brand-new bowl game before it launched at the end of the 1993 season.
The Alamo Bowl has been a hit in terms of game attendance, boosting local tourism during what was once a slow time of year, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and through financial support in the form of charitable giving to the surrounding San Antonio community.
“They used to drain the [San Antonio] Riverwalk that week,” Fox said.
And the game has been a hit in the ratings, consistently at the top of the non-college football playoff bowl games thanks to exciting and close matchups that typically feature high-octane offenses loaded with star players.
Fox played for Lee Sinnes on the Roughriders’ basketball team
“There was a point where I realized my athletic prowess wasn’t going to take me very far,” Fox joked. “So my focus was more academics than athletics and I got into Duke University.”
Fox knew he was still interested in the business of sports and while nearly finished with his political science degree at the prestigious university, he began to explore possible career paths.
“I knew I wanted to get into sports, but I didn’t know if that meant going to business school or law school,” Fox said.
He was able to speak with Bruce Skinner, himself a Port Angeles graduate who was in the middle of a 10-year run as Fiesta Bowl executive director.
“I used an entrée to Bruce as a fellow Port Angeles Roughrider in an attempt to pick his brain,” Fox recalled. “He said, ‘We have internships’ and he encouraged me to apply.”
Fox’s hire wasn’t a sure thing, but he was selected and joined the Fiesta Bowl staff as an intern for what would become one of the most-watched college football contests in history.
“I was an intern for the 1986 season and the Fiesta Bowl became the national championship that year, Penn State vs. Miami,” Fox said.
Fox was on staff as the Fiesta Bowl took on a corporate sponsor, Sunkist Growers Inc., a first for the sport.
The sponsorship deal helped the Fiesta Bowl increase its payout to participating teams and led to the enormous Miami-Penn State matchup. With the large TV audience the game was sure to draw, NBC relented, ushering in an era featuring college football bowl games such as the Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl (1991-97) and the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (2017-present).
Fox went from intern to director of marketing for the Fiesta Bowl before leaving to start up the Alamo Bowl in 1992.
“Bruce is a great people person and he was a football fan in many ways, but he was very passionate about the community aspect of the festival,” Fox said. “It was much more than just a football game. And in terms of the sponsorship arena, that was very interesting to me. Sunkist was one of the first sponsorships and it was fun to learn the business side as well.”
San Antonio opened the AlamoDome in 1993, giving the game its home, and sparking a deep bond between the city and the college football game.
“San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the U.S., but it does feel small, ” Fox said. “It’s a place people can get together and rally around an event, activity or cause and it’s been so welcoming to our family.”
Fox said the game produces an annual economic impact of around $40 million on average, with out-of-state contests such as Washington State-Iowa State drawing fans from across the country.
“We’ve also grown our scholarship program and have contributed more than $6 million for area high school and college scholarships,” Fox said. “We are averaging about $1 million per year now in scholarships.”
The usual economic impact may not be possible this season due to the pandemic, but Fox said bowl staffers are working under the assumption that a college football season would still be played, including the Alamo Bowl, despite the Big Ten and Pac-12 deciding earlier this week to push a potential season to the spring.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at [email protected].