Texas Tech football: 19 years ago today Red Raiders began impressive bowl streak

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Mike Leach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during play against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Mike Leach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during play against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Nineteen years ago today, on December 27th, 2000, the Texas Tech football program began an impressive bowl streak that we may never see again.

It has become trendy for everyone who watches, follows, or analyzes college football to bemoan the number of bowl games that are played these days.  Give any old-timer an opening when talking about bowls and he’ll be quick to note that, “Back in my day, we didn’t let half the teams in the nation go to a bowl.”  For those of you who are of that inclination I ask, given that we are now in an era when the Texas Tech football program has been to just two bowls in the last six years, wouldn’t any postseason appearance be something worth appreciating?

But because of a run that began 19 years ago today, the Texas Tech football fandom became spoiled in regards to reaching a bowl.  On December 27th, 2000 Tech played in the first bowl game of the Mike Leach era, the GalleryFurniture.com Bowl in Houston.

Though the 40-27 drubbing at the hands of East Carolina was one of the least memorable bowl performances in Tech history, it was significant in one regard.  That was the first in a run of 11-straight years that Tech would go to a bowl.  It was also part of a run of 18-straight bowl-eligible seasons for the Red Raiders who did not suffer a losing season from 1993-2010.

These days, that feels like a run of success we might never see again.  That’s because bowl appearances for this program were rather rare prior to the Spike Dykes era.

Before the 1985 season when Dykes took over as head coach for the Independence Bowl after David McWilliams left for Texas, Tech had been to only 15 bowls in its history.  Since then, we have seen the Red Raiders in 22.   (Yes…old-timers…we know.  There were fewer bowls in the 70s than there are today.  Your point has been noted…again.)

Let’s just look at the context of the modern-day game and where Tech now finds itself.  Let this fact sink in.  There are only two Big 12 programs that have missed a bowl game for the last two seasons, Texas Tech and Kansas.  That’s it.  Our Red Raiders are in the same boat as Kansas…which owns a one-game winning streak over Tech at the present time.

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Tech has also been to the fewest bowls of any team in the conference other than the Jayhawks and Iowa State since the start of the Kingsbury era.  Separating the Red Raiders and Cyclones is the fact that the three bowls ISU has been to since 2013 have come in the last three years, while Tech has managed to get to a bowl just once since 2017.

So let’s not pretend like this program is in any position to lift our metaphorical hind leg on any bowl game.  I might be in the minority here but I would rather be watching the Red Raiders in the Toad Suck Bowl presented by Lanacane and taking on Double-Direction State than to go through another bowl season in which Tech is nowhere to be found.

Looking down on a bowl appearance was the attitude this entire program had in 2000 as well and that’s why the Red Raiders got run off the field by the Pirates.  After a nice 7-5 season in Leach’s debut campaign, fans (and apparently the players) thought that playing a Conference USA team was not enough of a reward for their season and there was almost no buzz or hype about the game.

Maybe that’s why ECU jumped out to a 20-0 first-quarter and 34-7 halftime lead in the Astrodome.  But that game was still a significant stepping stone for the program.

That’s because just getting to that game gave Leach a tangible bit of improvement to point to in his first year.  Tech had not gone to a bowl in 1999 despite going 6-6 because the program didn’t want to play another game after the triumphant end of the Spike Dykes era, an upset of OU in Lubbock to end the regular season.

Though it’s hard to remember now, there was a significant portion of the fan base that was not on board with Leach when he was hired and had he failed to get to the postseason in his first year, his detractors would have grown more boisterous…not that it would have mattered to The Pirate.

Ultimately though, Leach not only made getting to a bowl game the expectation, he made winning them the norm.  He managed to come away with six bowl wins in his nine years as head coach (though his sixth win doesn’t technically go on his ledger given that he had been fired just days prior to the game).   Outside of the Leach era, Tech has won just eight bowls.

So 19 years ago today, this program began a streak that we took for granted at the time.  Thanks to an increase in bowls and an 8-game conference schedule at the time (as opposed to 9 games now), getting to the postseason was easier for Leach than for any other coach in Tech history but it was also more commonplace for him.

It’s an era that we all miss because bowl appearances were as guaranteed on the yearly calendar as Christmas Day.  Who knows if we will ever get back to that place.