December 15, 2008

#8 Bowl Games


If you missed the last installment of the Countdown, here's #9. I know, I know. It's dragging. I'm going to give everyone an early Christmas present and make this the last installment of the year. Fitting to leave off with the bowl games. I'll pick up with a much anticipated #7 in summer '09 once football camp breaks.

This ranking is unique because it combines experiences from 4 major bowl venues: Sun Devil Stadium (Fiesta Bowl), The Superdome (Sugar Bowl), Alltel Stadium (Gator Bowl) and the Florida Citrus Bowl, spanning a total of 6 different games (4 bowl games, 2 regular season games). For the countdown, I totaled all rankings for bowl stadium venues into one overall "stadium experience" - the Bowl Game.

Since all but Sun Devil Stadium are located at remote stadiums, the lack of a campus vibe and all the pomp and pageantry associated with it hurts the ranking. Along those same lines, the tradition surrounding the game experience, or lack thereof, hurts the bowl games. Granted, the Sugar and Fiesta Bowls are steeped in big-game ramifications, not to mention all the history of the Superdome (including the spot where Keith Smart hit the game winning shot in the '87 NCAA Championship Game - need a tissue Ravi?), but the absence of any significant tradition hurts the Gator and Citrus Bowls.

Overall, the bowl games scored the highest in the Intangibles category, which makes perfect sense since all trips were to warm-weather cities, with the celebratory vibe of New Year's hanging over most experiences. The opportunity to hang out on Bourbon Street or Mill Street mingling with opposing fans should be pursued at all costs. Two of the best party strips in America. No further words need to be wasted on New Orleans - unlike any other place. Lesser known for its awesomeness is the Fiesta Bowl extravaganza known as the Block Party. Mill Street, mere blocks from Arizona State's campus, becomes a carnival of excitement with myriad stages of live music, a pep rally for both schools with a marching band "Band-Off" and your choice of bars to ring in the new year. A WeIs shout out to Rula Bula's for a night to remember. Unfortunately, now that the Fiesta Bowl has gone corporate and moved its venue to Glendale, the opportunity to walk from your seat in Sun Devil Stadium to celebrate a victory on Mill Street, or in our case, drown our sorrows, is rendered obsolete. For shame. There weren't many stadiums that boasted a better surrounding area than Fiesta Bowl's at Sun Devil: both picturesque with the mountains as a backdrop and party-accessible.

As great of experiences as the Fiesta and Sugar Bowl are, the Gator and Citrus Bowl drag them down. Jacksonville is an underwhelming city, to say the least. Everything is spread out and there's hardly any cabs to help you get around. The advice given by locals to party for New Year's downtown at "The Landing" turned out to be more like a food court with beer. Tailgating was just as miserable, drinking beer and champagne in a parking lot before a noon start. Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, as it is now called, is "nice" in an NFL corporate sense, but not a dripping with college football history and tradition sense. The best tradition it has going for it is host for "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" - the annual grudge match between Florida and Georgia. If and when WeIs makes it way back to J-ville for that experience, the Gator Bowl's ranking will certainly enjoy a spike across all categories. But for now, it's officially a dud, save for the fact that Doug met his wife that weekend. So Jacksonville has matchmaker going for it, which is nice.

The Citrus Bowl venue in Orlando hosted two Irish regular season games: a bitter "neutral" field matchup with Florida State in 1994 and a random neutral site versus Navy for Fall Break 2000. The stadium is in a remote area of town off some turnpike. There's absolutely nothing special about the place, other than the fact it can hold 70,000 people within its concrete walls. It actually has a decent history as a bowl site, hosting multiple games every bowl season. The first game actually dates back to 1947 when it was called the Tangerine Bowl. Back to the actual experiences, the Florida State game was actually quite negative as my only recollections involve rowdy, intoxicated Seminole fans picking fights with Irish fans in the stands and spitting at/on us walking out of the stadium. These FSU fans didn't put their best foot forward, unlike the fans we encountered at Doak Campbell. The Navy game was a half-full crowd going through the motions of being excited. This was back in the days when we regularly dominated Navy and the outcome was determined by halftime. Two things made the game more enjoyable than it should have been: they served beer in the stadium - perfect for us students on Fall Break - and they had a scoreboard that tracked the rushing, passing and total yards for each team, a simple, yet fun feature. Irish fans should be ready to enjoy more Citrus Bowl "excitement" as Kevin White orchestrated deals to return to Orlando in 2011 and 2014. The chance that we have the cajones to play someone on par with Florida State are slim to none. Army is already on tap as the opponent in 2011 - yippee!! Book your trip now for that barnburner!

In summary, while the bowl venues normally bring a festive mood to the trip, it's not enough to make up for what it lacks in campus vibe, tradition and fan factor. The tailgate scene is hit or miss, while the surrounding area is totally dependent on where the game is played. If it's a BCS game, you're gonna have a hell of a time in a great city. If it's anywhere else (unless you're heading over to Hawaii), you'll have to make your own fun.

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