'It's A Miracle'

Tommy McQueeney, Medal of Honor Bowl chairman, is excited about hosting the bowl at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Jan. 11. Photo taken Thursday, Jan. 2, 2013 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Paul Zoeller/Staff

When the Medal of Honor Bowl was announced on Oct. 1, Tommy McQueeney had 105 days to make the college football all-star game happen.

Not that he was counting.

"One hundred and five days from when we announced to kickoff," McQueeney said last week. "It's a miracle."

The inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl will bring together NFL scouts, 96 of the top draft-eligible players in the country and, McQueeney hopes, thousands of fans next Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

It's a logistical miracle born of hard work and a lot of help, says McQueeney, a Charleston businessman, community volunteer, published author and chairman of the Medal of Honor Bowl.

"When I say it's a miracle, it's a miracle how fast it happened," said McQueeney, a 61-year-old Citadel grad who has worked for years to bring a game of this sort to Charleston. "And it's a miracle as to why so many people got involved. And that goes back to the Medal of Honor."

The chance to honor the military's Medal of Honor winners - and to benefit the Medal of Honor Museum at Patriots Point and the Wounded Warriors project - was the reason so many people stepped forward to help, McQueeney said.

He put together a sort of super-committee of 43 people to handle every aspect of the game, which really is a week-long event. Each of those committee chairpersons have their own area of responsibility, ranging from the players' activities to corporate sponsorships, food and beverage, hospitality and relations with the NCAA and NFL.

"It was a definite sense of urgency from top-level people," he said. "And momentum, just like in a football game. Once you get that, it starts rolling forward and things start happening."

The key to early momentum was financial support from corporate sponsors and from state and local governments, he said. The committee was able to secure about $182,500 from various government entities; the total budget for the game is about $654,000.

"All of that came in place fairly early, and that was enough to get the momentum going for us," he said.

McQueeney has been invaluable in putting the game together, said MOH Bowl executive director Brian Woods.

"He's exactly the type of person you need for a job like this," Woods said. "He's well-connected in Charleston and just a dynamic person. You couldn't ask for a better guy to chair something like this."

While McQueeney handled logistics and finances, Woods put together the rosters for the game. He extended about 130 invitations to secure 96 players, many from the ACC and SEC.

As a new game, the Medal of Honor Bowl ranks below more established games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game. But Woods said that he and NFL personnel directors are happy with the rosters.

"We probably lost six or seven guys in the last two weeks to the East-West game," he said. "We had some guys on our roster until they got invitations to the NFL Combine, and then other games came in. But I think we did a good job of getting some top players."

Woods said some 100 NFL scouts, coaches and personnel directors are confirmed to attend practices and the game next week. McQueeney said ticket sales have gone well, with most seats on the home side of 20,000-seat Johnson Hagood Stadium sold. Groups such as Boy Scouts, local football teams and military personnel have been invited to fill out the visitors' side.

Meanwhile, McQueeney already is thinking about the game's future in Charleston. A title sponsor (like the Reese's Senior Bowl) and a TV contract are on the agenda.

"TV will be a given next year," Woods said. "We were pressed for time this year. We had very strong interest this year, but they just didn't have the availability on our date. I expect to have a TV deal lined up for next year a month or two after the game."

McQueeney, who was a big part of bringing the Southern Conference basketball tournament to Charleston six times from 2002-2008, was crushed when the league decided to move the tournament. He's determined that won't happen to the Medal of Honor Bowl.

That's why he formed a corporation - Palmetto Bowl LLC - to run the game, and signed the papers himself.

"As long as there is a Medal of Honor Bowl," he said, "it will be in Charleston."