Friday, December 16, 2011

Gator....good for fashion, bad for football

Hey ya'll! Today marks the second edition of my Friday Fun bowl series. The weather is getting a little nippy outside, so I thought a trip down to Jacksonville, Florida would be fun. Here goes!


Gators....not as cuddly as depicted here.
The Gator Bowl. Since 1922, WVU has played in seven of them.

They've won

So yeah, not pretty. Not by a long stretch. In fact, our family has been a personal witness to 3 of those seven losses.

Before you say we're the jinx, we were also at the only Gator Bowl in which they were there.

I remember my first Gator Bowl like it was yesterday. Mostly because it was perhaps the BIGGEST disaster of a football experience I've ever had the displeasure of being a part of.

Sure, it started out inconspicuously enough. We were all super-dooper excited to be going to Florida. Much better than lame Charlotte, NC where we had gone the previous year.

Side note... this is the game where we realized that you should a) never get your tickets through the university and b) you should try to stay at the hotel where the Alumni Association is staying. Trust me.

Anyway, five minutes after we pull up to our somewhat dubious hotel/motel, my mother trips over the speed bump in the parking lot and face plants onto the pavement, eliciting cheers from the drunken WVU fans already in party mode.

And let's be real...they thought she was in "party mode" already as well.

Turns out, she had sprained or broken something in her leg region. This is important for you to know because it was New Year's Eve and it basically sidelined us for the evening. Also? It really made getting to our seats the next day in the nosebleed section really, really interesting.

As for the game, well....WVU got slaughtered by a Maryland team led by former WVU quarterback Scott McBrien.  The final score was 41-7. And my stepdad didn't talk for 3 whole days. No lie.
Fast forward to the 2010. This was the last Gator Bowl we attended. I should have sensed disaster from the very beginning. It happened to be Bobby Bowden's last game as Florida State's head coach, and FSU was given a courtesy invite as a 6-6 barely eligible bowl team to play a very strong 9-3 WVU squad. Bowl officials wanted to play up the whole Bowden- WVU connection, where Bobby had begun his Division I head coaching career.

I get that Bowden is a legend, I do. But the man was made Grand Marshall of the parade and given a free car.

Which, fyi, I totally expect now when I retire. Am I right people?

The rain and gloom of the day kinda matched the outcome. FSU went on to win 33-21, and Bobby ended his career a winner. Yay.

Meanwhile, we were forced to suffer through yet another sucky Gator Bowl experience.


In fact, if not for the Gator Bowl in 2007, Jacksonville would be a hopeless cause.

Our entire family left right before New Year's Eve to make the trip down south, leaving just my cousin and her fiance behind to watch over things. My grandfather had been admitted to the hospital to remove fluid from his legs- a result of not properly taking his medication. Something that wasn't a walk in the park, but nothing too serious. So off to Jacksonville we went.

Unfortunately, by late December 30th, things had taken a turn for the worse. A pneumonia epidemic was sweeping the hospital, and my grandfather had contracted it. By early New Year's Eve morning, he had gone into kidney failure, and by early evening he was gone.

Devastated, we sat around trying to figure out what to do. Should we pack up and head home ASAP? Should we leave first thing in the morning? Or should we stay, attend the game, and then leave?

After much debate, my mom, stepdad and I decided that my grandfather would want us to go to the game. He loved football. He loved WVU. He had wished us well on our trip before we departed and said he'd been watching.

Once again, the weather in Jacksonville was gloomy. Donned in ponchos, we suffered through the rain as Georgia Tech, with a very talented Calvin Johnson as receiver, got out to a substantial lead. It looked like it was again going to be one of those games.

But then, something happened. Legendary QB Pat White brought the Mounties out in the second half raring to go. We could sense a comeback in the air. Down by 18 late in the 3rd, West Virginia scored 21 unanswered points to win 38-35.

My grandfather HAD been watching. He had helped to validate our decision to stay.

And lest you think I'm getting too sappy and soft, let me assure you: that was the first time ESPN became enamored with me and my rain poncho. As we greeted people at the viewing, we were met with countless "Sorry for your loss....I totally saw you at the game on tv!"

Which, morbid as it sounds, was all kinds of awesome.

So thanks for the memories Gator Bowl. But if it's all the same, I'd rather have you as a shoe....or a handbag.

Images provided by The Sportsonista.


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