Dave Walsh: The Wyoming Cowboys played the first-ever American football game in Australia

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By Dave Walsh, Cowboy State Daily

It’s here. It’s in another big milestone in the 12 month, 365 day journey that is college football. And for many of us who are fans and followers of Wyoming Cowboy Football, the play and staging of the Spring Game is the very moment of entering this important next phase.

Whatever you want to call this next phase, don’t call it “the off season.” No one takes time off here. Neither the players nor the coaches, and certainly not the supporters. It is simply a space of time where no “game” is on the schedule, but where there are many preparatory hours before the next match. Fall drills and that big game on August 27 await us, with plenty of conditioning on the agenda in between.

And think about it, we are now only 17 weeks away from that big day. The Cowboys are just 119 days away from their 2022 season opener. And Cowboy fans are just as close to that first-ever football game between Wyoming and Illinois. The Cowboys and Fighting Illini will meet for the first time on a football field at Memorial Stadium. Not War Memorial Stadium, but Memorial Stadium, Illinois’ home ground in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Now there is still football, even now. But if one is a college football fan, or a high school fan or even the NFL for that matter, the next game is coming. And those who are somehow connected with following, or should I say “covering”, one of these football teams, well, we’re still looking forward to the start of next season.

I’ll admit it, heading into what would be my 39th straight season calling Cowboy Football games, I still can’t help but remain obsessed with what’s next for the Pokes. Let’s see, “advertiser” and “fan” seem to be the same thing, right? There is now a main topic for a future column. What is it and how does one become an open and accepted “homer”. I’m your guy! But later!

Back to Cowboy Football, and really to the sport of football itself. It’s amazing how important this sport has become to so many people. Kind of like other sports, sure, but the passion and dedication that seems to grow among those involved in football is truly amazing.

We are seeing interest and participation return to peak levels, after two seasons of planning and playing on the fly. Interest has returned in a big way here in the United States for American football. And curiosity about the game apparently continues to grow abroad as well. The NFL will play more regular season games in Europe, Mexico and Canada in future seasons and is reportedly considering putting a franchise in London or Mexico City. Didn’t the Buffalo Bills recently play an exhibition game in Canada?

Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have been active in international markets for years. College football still doesn’t dabble much in overseas game scheduling. And by the way, games in Honolulu, Hawaii, do not count as being played “abroad”. I’m talking about games played outside of the United States. Most schools, at all levels of college football here in America, have never played a game outside of the United States.

The Cowboys have.

The Wyoming Cowboys have played over 1,100 games in their 125 season history. To be exact, the Pokes have represented Old U-Dub some 1,167 times, which includes regular season and postseason games. And the Cowboys have played all but one of those 1,166 in one of the 50 U.S. states. Only one Wyoming football game has been played overseas, outside of the United States.

Oddly enough, it was a regular season game, appearing on the 1985 schedule. The Cowboys would face the UTEP Miners “Down Under” on December 7. It was the last game on the schedule and would be played in Melbourne, Australia. Ironically, the game would be played in the South Pacific, exactly 44 years to the day from that fateful attack on Pearl Harbor.

It would be the farthest distance the Cowboys have ever traveled for a roadie, and sure enough, a Wyoming football team hasn’t gone that far from home to play in the 36 seasons since. It was also a nearly failed “The Voice” game. It would have been the only one I missed in 39 seasons, but it almost happened.

You see, in Australia, all on-air radio announcers are members of a union. And until Wyoming Sense. Al Simpson and Malcolm Wallop get involved on our behalf, we weren’t allowed to do the show. But we were finally cleared to broadcast and headed off to Melbourne for the 1985 season finale.

There were other unusual facets to this game. It would be the very first game of American football ever played on the Australian continent. Australians were big fans of rugby and Australian rules football, but had never seen the American game before. And while it wasn’t a post-season bowling game, it had three different names – the Down Under Bowl, the Gridiron Bowl or the Australian Bowl, take your pick.

This match also featured two head coaches who had already been fired! Wyoming and UTEP had given Al Kincaid and Bill Young the old crush after their final games three weeks prior.

The Cowboys would win the game, played in front of 19,000 fans at the massive 100,000-seater Victoria Football League Park in Melbourne. The Pokes beat the Miners, 23-21 in Al Kincaid’s last game, led by Scott Runyan’s two touchdown passes, and Toriano Taylor’s 125 rushing yards.

And how about one last treat!

When the Cowboys won that game in Australia in 1985, they became the first American college football team in history to win games in both the northern and southern hemispheres!

Just 119 days away from creating even more Cowboy Football memories. I can not wait !

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