More Than Just a Game
by Bill Glose, 1/7/02
Every year at the end of the football season, the same argument raises its ugly head as talking heads spout ways in which to fix the bowl system. However, bowls were never intended to be the do-all end-all method to crown a national champion. They are, instead, a novel way to close the season, a reward to the players, and a year-end celebration for the fans.
Playoff backers refuse to believe it, but bowls are more than just a final game. They are an emotion-filled experience, a meeting place to reunite and relive college experiences. To those who stubbornly refuse to be swayed, I say this: Go. Take part. Experience it for yourself. or only then can you truly understand.
I flew to my last bowl game, the 1996 Orange Bowl pitting VT vs. Nebraska; Druck and Oxendine vs. the Blackshirts; Frost and Benning vs. the Lunchpail D. It was a gallant battle, and though the Hokies lost, I felt closer to my school and the alums afterward. However, I figured part of the college experience is road tripping, so this year, I drove to the Gator Bowl.
Over the years, I’ve learned some tricks to making long road trips manageable: pack the night before, wear comfortable clothes (i.e. sweats), and bring plenty of storytapes (lifesavers that you can check out free from your local library). My great trek started Sunday morning just before dawn and as I crossed over the James River, the sun crested the horizon. Orange and maroon streaked the sky and I smiled, thinking Corso was right – God is a Hokie. Firs, pines, and various other evergreens provided color along highway 58, the rolling ribbon of road that cuts across to 95.
My Hokie flag flapped against the window and I wondered how many others were headed to Jacksonville. 58 gave way to the drab swath of cement called I-95, and South of the Border signs started popping up. I kept a watchful eye open for the next bright orange sombrero, wondering what that crazy Pedro would say next. I chuckled at each one until I saw the ‘Smash Hit’ billboard with the attached crushed red car. That one resembled my Tercel too much and made me cry.
Once into South Carolina, it was time to jack up the speed. To ease my guilt, I used white out on my dashboard screen to make the ‘85’ at least look like ’65.’ The plan worked well until traffic bottlenecked and slowed. If not for the storytapes, I might have killed an innocent bystander in a bout of road rage (I told you they were lifesavers). At the outset of my journey, the number of cars and vans with Hokie decorations started as a slow trickle, but the flow increased as I neared Jacksonville, until finally Hokie flags and magnets flooded the roads.
On Monday, my impression was confirmed: the Commonwealth had invaded the sunshine state. A maroon wave swept over Jacksonville Landing, downtown’s large riverfront mall and entertainment complex. An estimated 8-10,000 Hokies packed in as the Marching Virginians took the stage, starting with a slow brass riff that escalated until it exploded into a Hokie fight song. The crowd erupted and gulls shot out across the river. We were huddled together 600 miles from Virginia, but it felt like we were standing in Blacksburg. Cheerleaders led the crowd until Bill Roth and Mike Burnop stepped forward and I figured it was worth the trip just to hear the usually mild-mannered Mike say, "We’re going to kick their ass!"
The team was introduced and Frank Beamer and the team captains spoke a few words. We cheered louder and said thanks to the seniors, the winningest class to ever play at VT. They urged us to be loud and they let us know that we, the fans, make a difference in the game; they let us know how much we mattered.
Tailgating started early the next day. Though Hokies owned Jacksonville the day before, Seminoles invaded in large numbers and quickly outnumbered VT. I meandered through various parking lots, bouncing from informal gatherings on lawn chairs, to tailgates, to tents. The FSU fans I chatted with were hospitable, eager to root their own team on, and hopeful we would witness a good game. Eventually, I graduated to the big Budweiser tailgate, where both universities’ bands and cheerleaders performed again. All ages were represented in the gathering crowd, from toddlers to gray-haired couples.
Soon, we would filter into AllTel Stadium, the coin would be flipped, and the ball would be kicked off. But I lingered at the pre-game party, thinking the bowl experience is more than just a game. All around me, alumni and their families chatted with one another, filling in the blanks since they’d last seen each other at their last bowl game. And as I watched smiling faces break into cheers for their schools, I nodded to myself thinking this is what it’s all about. More than the game itself, this is the bowl experience.
Bill Glose is the editor of the literary journal, Virginia Adversaria. His fiction has been accepted for
publication in four countries and he was recently named the winner of the 2001 F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest.