You don't have to tell Tom Ramage how to get from Lindbergh Field to the hotel. You don't have to tell him the best Mexican food is in Old Town. You don't have to tell him if you've seen Tijuana once, you've seen it. You don't have to tell him where Jack Murphy Stadium is located, or Shamu either. You don't have to tell him this is a Navy town.

This is not his first Holiday Bowl. Or his second. Ramage is a Holiday fixture in San Diego. The poinsettias bloom and he arrives. He always has LaVell Edwards with him, and the rest of the BYU football team. The locals have come to expect it. These guys show up, and a football game breaks out.Ramage is one of four BYU coaches - the others are Edwards, Norm Chow and Dick Felt - who have been a part of every Cougar Holiday Bowl trip in history. Which is quite a few. This year's appearance makes it 11 Holiday Bowls for BYU in the past 16 years. The first was in 1978 for Holiday Bowl I. The 11th is in 1993 for Holiday Bowl XVI. One or two more and Ramage can buy license plates and pay property taxes and start saying "radical" and attend swap meets.

Stretch it all out and he has lived almost a third of a year bowling in San Diego. It's a miracle he doesn't have a tattoo yet. He's got one son, his youngest, who for years was sure Santa Claus thought the Ramages lived in the Mission Bay Hilton.

Ramage, and the Cougars, have taken periodic sabbaticals from their appointed Holiday Bowl rounds. They have gone to Anaheim twice, and Orlando, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., and last year they went to Honolulu and played on Christmas Day in the Aloha Bowl.

But of them all, Ramage likes coming to San Diego best.

"No. 1, I like it because it means we're the champion," he says. "And I don't care what level or what league you play in, that's what you play for, to be the champion. If you're playing in San Diego, you're the champion."

And No. 2?

"I like it because I like it," says Ramage.

"The activities they have, the things they do for you, the way you're treated," he says. "It's got to compare with any bowl anywhere."

Besides, there's a certain amount of propriety that comes with familiarity. Ramage knows his way around Holiday Bowl week. He does virtually the same things every year, only he does them differently.

Take the annual Aircraft Carrier tour, for example. A lot of Cougar players, by the time they're redshirt seniors, try to dodge the tour. They'll miss the bus or have the two-hour flu. But Ramage has gone to the carrier 10 times now, and every time he has seen a different part of the ship.

"I climbed into an airplane on the deck one year," he says, "and then one year we went right down and ate beans with the crew."

The annual Sea World visit has been more of the same. "One time two or three of us got the trainer to take us backstage before showtime," he says, "and it was just us and Shamu."

Ramage has a commemorative glass mug from every BYU Holiday Bowl on display at his home in Orem. He wishes he could say the same about all of his commemorative Holiday Bowl wristwatches, but "my kids have raided the collection from time to time."

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As with most things, Ramage wonders where all the time has gone. It seems like only yesterday that he was climbing aboard the bus with a box lunch and going to the Kiwanis Kickoff Luncheon at the old convention center in downtown San Diego. Now, it's 16 years later and he's taking the walkway from the Marriott Hotel to the new multi-million dollar Convention Center that adjoins next door.

"It's come so far since the first time," he says, "but it only seems like yesterday."

The Cougars lost in the inaugural Holiday Bowl game in 1978 - to, appropriately enough, Navy. It took them three tries before they finally won with their memorable 46-45 Miracle Bowl win over SMU in the 1980 game. That game remains at the top of Ramage's memory list, "because it was such an exciting game and because I had a son (Tom Jr.) who played in that one. He was in on the special teams when they blocked the punt. That one will always be special, as will the night we won the game we had to if we were going to win the national championship (24-17 over Michigan in 1984)."

"It's good to be back," says Ramage, breathing in the same Holiday sea air he's breathed 10 times before. "This just seems like the place you're supposed to be this time of year."

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