Stadium Stories: Holiday Bowl CEO loved going to work at historic Mission Valley site

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SAN DIEGO – The stadium in Mission Valley is in its final stages of demolition. Gone are the bleachers, the scoreboard and the office where Holiday Bowl CEO Mark Neville went to work for nearly 30 years.

Perched above the field on the north side of the scoreboard, he recalls the picturesque view looking down into the historic sports venue.

“I would tell my friends that it was kind of like my own little suite, you know?” Neville said.

Neville says he started with the Holiday Bowl as an intern on June 4, 1991 and worked his way up to become chief executive of San Diego’s annual bowl game. Along the way, he had a front row seat to some of the greatest college football games ever played.

Two games held there — the 1980 Holiday Bowl between BYU and SMU and the 2001 Holiday Bowl between Texas and Washington — consistently rank among the top bowl games in history.

But Neville’s favorite moment was from a different game: the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl. The day before the game, a rain storm flooded San Diego and covered the field in waist-deep water.

To pull it off, Neville said they only had one choice: “Start pumping.”

“About 9 o’clock at night, those pumps started turning on and pushing the water out into the river,” he said. “It was a really sleepless night. We get in here really early on game day morning and we look at the field and it was painted (and) the water was gone.”

Without a drop of rain in sight, the largest crowd in Poinsettia Bowl history — more than 48,000 fans in total — watched San Diego State play in its first bowl game in 22 years. The Aztecs defeated Navy that day, 35-14.

The final Holiday Bowl was held Dec. 27, 2019 between USC and Iowa. No celebration or closing ceremony was held, in part because at the time nobody knew it would serve as the stadium’s finale.

“I loved working there,” Neville said. “I mean, I loved that building. And I tell a lot of people, it had a bad rap there at the end, you know, and I didn’t like that. Because I’d say any San Diegan who’s spent any amount of time here — it’s been here just a short time — has a good memory of being inside that stadium for an event.”

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