previously, I was fortunate enough to attend yesterday's Gator Bowl in Jacksonville with my son. A college friend of his and I drove down New Year's Eve to meet Carder and Eric, his brother-in-law, for the game between FSU and West Virginia. Here's the play-by-play along with some color commentary.
11:40pm, New Year's Eve--we arrive at our hotel just south of Jacksonville. It was 31 degrees when I left North Georgia and 65 when I got out of the truck. I thought this would be great weather for the game. I thought wrong. Instead of being one wrong thought it was a sign of things to come. More on that later.
11:42pm--Carder meets me at the door and we turn around to meet our "shuttle" outside. The "shuttle" was a pickup whose driver was a woman named Linda, who made a point of telling us she was from West Virginia. I, in turn, remarked about what a coincidence that was since we, too, were from the Mountaineer State. Linda drives with abandon as I call my sweetheart to tell her Happy New Year.
12:02pm, New Year's Day--every bridge crossing the St. John's River in Jacksonville is a drawbridge. I know this since we are sitting in line waiting for ours to be lowered so we can get to Jacksonville Landing. We're going there because Carder bought a package deal for the game which included a card entitling us to free drinks at several establishments in the Landing. Jacksonville Landing was originally an upscale plaza on the east side of the St. John's River downtown. That was twenty-some-odd years ago. Now it's like a bad strip-mall. And we didn't have coupons for free drinks at several establishments, only one drink at our choice of several establishments, most of which--believe it or not--were closing by the time we got there. Except for one. Hooters. I go there for the wings.
12:33am--we navigate our way through every drunk in Duval County trying to find Hooters (I go there for the wings). After we are seated, on the outside patio just behind the featured band, we get our free drink. My beer looks like colored water. It tastes like sparkling river water. Carder buys us a real drink.
1:28am--Brandon calls Linda, who tells us she'll pick us up in thirty minutes. While he's on the phone, a guy pulls up in an old Pontiac van with a handwritten sign on the dash that says "shuttle" and approximately 300 people rush to get in. All of whom have no cash on them. But I do, so we hop in, along with a couple from West Virginia (as we are) who are rip-roaring drunk. They don't know where their hotel is, they just know it's south of Jacksonville. Our ride costs us forty dollars. No telling what theirs ended up costing.
2:02am--bedtime. It's clear and 62 outside. This will not last.
6:15am--I get up and shower. You know how hotels have one soap for the sink and one for the shower? Not this one. And how they supply shampoo? Not this one. 2010 is not starting off well.
I go downstairs and have two frozen biscuits, warmed up in a microwave, topped with the best sausage gravy you can get from a can. As the sun comes up, I notice that the sun doesn't come up. It's cloudy, so I step outside to see how warm it is. It isn't. It's 46 degrees and rain begins to fall. This is why they call Florida the Sunshine State.
8:20am--we leave for Alltel Stadium, A) because part of our package includes tickets for the Bud Tailgate Party, and 2) because we want to get a good vantage point for the Seminole Walk at 10:30. Our pre-assigned, reserved parking is in Lot Z, located in Brunswick, Georgia. I am hoping West Virginia Linda or Pontiac Man will happen to show up and give us a ride back to Florida. It is still raining.
9:07am--we begin hitch-hiking to the Gator Bowl. It is still raining.
9:11am--we begin walking to the Gator Bowl. It is still raining.
9:38am--we take up a great position near the Press Platform for the Seminole Walk. We know we'll be on TV, so I call Jennie to let her know where we're standing so she can watch for us on TV. She and Emily are out shopping.
9:52am--It begins to snow. I am not making this up.
Since I opted not to bring my jacket, thinking it would only be in the way, I am reminded when the snow turns to a steady rain that this is not the first misstep I have made on this trip. Nor will it be the last.
10:23am--former Seminole players, many of whom have been paroled for the game, walk toward where the buses will stop to let coaches and players off for the Seminole Walk. I wonder silently if I will see Mickey Andrews, FSU's Defensive Coordinator. He, along with Bobby, built this team from the ground up.
10:33am--The Marching Chiefs, FSU's band, plays the fight song. It won't be long now. Carder and I speculate what the band would be like if it was made up of Labrador Retrievers (like Chief, his dog). We laugh, and the wind and rain freeze our mouths instantly. We look like the Joker. We feel like the Idiots.
10:48am--Coach Bowden and his wife Ann are right in front of us, close enough to touch if our arms weren't frozen into our pants pockets. We can't wave, so we try to yell "Bobby!" It comes out "Whyyy sooo serioussss?" In a sick way, I hope this Joker thing lasts.
11:11am--two hours to kickoff. We forego the Tailgate Party for the car heater. I am soaked to the bone. My clothes will not be dry today. Mickey Andrews was not in the Seminole Walk. I make this observation to Carder. He replies "Whyyy sooo serioussss?" I swing at him with my frozen left arm. It breaks off and falls into the center console.
12:06pm--we begin the long walk from Lot Z to the stadium. I look at my ticket. Section 430, Row HH, seat 8. My experience says anytime a ticket row reads in double digits it's not a good sign. I am thankful we're not on Row ZZ. I do not know, at this point, that there is no Row ZZ. Guess which row is the last--and highest--one in Section 430? And is also on the WVU side?
What has 44 legs and 8 teeth? No, not the front row at a Willie Nelson concert. Section 430, Row GG, Alltel Stadium. And they're all from West Virginia.
12:38pm--we arrive at our seats. I am at the highest point in Alltel Stadium. My clothes are still wet, it is still raining, the wind is still blowing, and I can see Stone Mountain in Georgia.
12:50pm--we stand for the National Anthem. Fighter jets from the Beaufort, South Carolina, Air Force base fly over in the "missing man" formation. I shake one pilot's hand as he flies over me.
Three minutes and forty-five seconds into the game WVU scores. Seminole Nation, or at least the part in the nosebleed section, is concerned. FSU marches down the field and manages a field goal. It is still raining. If I stand up I can climb into the Directtv blimp. Also, I can get blown about from four different directions. Carder mentions that neither his wife or his mama would be happy here. I don't tell him that I'm not happy either. I can't. It's too cold.
FSU goes on to score thirty unanswered points to win the game, 33-21. After circling Jacksonville for about an hour we find I-95 and head out. I will eventually dry out and warm up, but I have to stop for gas in Whitehouse, childhood home of the Van Zandts of Lynyrd Skynyrd. When I go in to pay for the gas, coming out of the store is Mickey Andrews. He looks at me, says, "Hey, Bud" like we've known each other for years, and I shake his hand and thank him for all his hard work. I call Carder to rub it in. He takes it well.
1:07am, January 2, 2010--I pull into the driveway. It is 23 degrees, but it's not raining. I smell like a wet dog and my face is wind-chapped. But I don't have to Wait Until Next Year. It's already next year.
And the Florida State Seminoles are 1-0. This will be a good year.