The Gator
by Jim Alderson, 1/3/01

I rather enjoy bowl trips, and this year’s to the Gator was no exception. It began in the pre-dawn hours of New Year’s Eve as we rolled out of Danville heading south. Aside from the unfortunate discovery that Blue Laws still exist in South Carolina and Georgia and there are convenience store clerks who cannot be bribed into breaking them it was a fun drive down I-95. The highway was thick with Hokies and Tigers, as was to be expected from two schools holding reputations among the best travelers around. We also noticed quite a few partisans of other J1 bowls, including a lot of Cocks, as well as Buckeyes (soon to be observing as Cooper’s losing to a team that not long ago was riding a 21-game losing streak proved one underachievement too many), Wolverines, and even a Sooner and a couple of Noles, all charging down the Eastern Seaboard chasing their team. The bowl trip is a phenomenon unique to college football.

We arrived in Jacksonville around three in the afternoon. Things took a dark turn as the hotel that had cheerfully made a reservation three weeks ago and went so far as to confirm it via their Web site Friday seemed to experience a change of heart, one leading to a manager named Rocco explaining to me that reservation or no, there were no rooms available. I would advise all to be very careful in their dealings with the Choice Hotel chain. Rocco did raise the nearby DoubleTree on the phone, whose vacancy rate included at least one room. It was grabbed and we settled in.

Settling in involved dropping our bags and hopping the first shuttle downtown that the numerous hotels along Salisbury Road were providing (for a fee, naturally) in order to assure that guests were sleeping in their lodges rather than the Jacksonville Jail (I have no doubt that all of those friendly members of Jacksonville’s Finest we encountered at the Landing would not have been quite so helpful had we attempted to leave downtown by weaving an automobile in the general direction of I-95.)

When one thinks ‘Florida bowl trip’ the idea of sub-freezing weather does not immediately come to mind. That was what we got, however. Even though we were fortified by a fair amount of anti-freeze being sold seemingly everywhere around the river walk, the setting sun brought a chill coming off the St. John’s River that proved a few degrees under the line for these middle-aged bones and not too long after the pep rally we were again availing ourselves of local transportation and heading back to Motel Row, where we soon discovered a club strategically placed in the middle of all the inns called Buster and Dave’s. It proved a pleasant place to usher in the new millennium and observe on one of the many televisions that things could indeed be much worse in that we could have been in the Independence Bowl.

Game day dawned bright and sunny and after a few gallons of coffee we were heading at a brisk pace to Alltel Stadium. We drove into our assigned Lot Q and quickly discovered that we were the only Hokies in the neighborhood. We were maroon pebbles in an orange sea. Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time standing in stadium parking lots chatting with fans of the opposition, and I generally find them to be friendly sorts doing exactly what I am, supporting their team. There is a bond among college football fans that attend the games that transcends, at least to a point, loyalty to one’s team. These Tigers were no exception, and we were welcomed with open arms and some really good marinated shrimp. Another group were engaged in what I really admire in football fans, consuming brown liquor in the morning. Unfortunately, there was no Wild Turkey, but we were encouraged to help ourselves to the first of what seemed to be a trunk full of half gallons of VO, and we did.

About the only bowl prediction I got right this season was the one where I expressed my notion that Tech was a better team than Clemson. Surprisingly enough, these Tigers agreed, even before the game, that they had little chance of winning. Two years ago in Nashville, a friendly Alabama fan, as we headed for the dump known as Vanderbilt Stadium, asked me who I thought would win. I told him what I thought, which was that Tech would win easily. He was not impressed by the prediction and pointed out to me that Alabama was what we occasionally snicker at, a ‘traditional power.’ His opinion was a little different after the game. I was asked the same question by a Clemson fan, and I again told him what I thought, which was that Tech would win by 20 (I was not quite so sanguine about our chances last year). Virginia Tech’s position in the college football pecking order has changed a bit in two years, as this Clemson gentleman agreed with me totally in that we were the better team and should win easily, which we did.

One of the newspapers I collected on the trip home said that the difference between the 6th and the 16th ranked teams was three touchdowns, and so it was. We were just a little better in all aspects of the game. Tommy Bowden said in another of the game articles that we have the total package and he is right. Tech belonged in a BCS bowl and showed why (later that evening we were watching as Oregon State’s Dennis Erickson provided one of the purest examples of RUTS I have ever seen, going for two against an obviously out-manned Notre Dame while holding a 25-3 lead. Erickson is to be congratulated for demonstrating such contempt for the Irish and rubbing in the fact that they did not belong. One doesn’t often see such a brazen example of RUTS, or a more enjoyable one). There will be much wringing of hands over the next week or so as Mike wrestles with The Decision (if somebody offers me that much money I am down the road). No MV means we might not be playing in the Rose Bowl next year, but the program is bigger than one player and we will survive quite nicely, thank you.

Leaving Alltel I saw a friendly face. For lame reasons that include my usual difficulty in remembering names, five miniature bottles of Bacardi (our rule is white liquor during day games) and the fact that he bears some resemblance to a friend of mine who is a bar regular at a Danville watering hole where I have been known to spend time who is named Shawn, I called the poster known as Baltimore Hokie by the wrong name. After rather pointedly correcting me, he was a good sport and invited me to his tailgate (I did do penance by mentally reciting Sandy for a couple of hundred miles on the ride home). Once again my ability to cadge invitations to other people’s parties emerged intact. And, lo and behold, who should be with him but Atlee and his lovely bride. For years, whether it is Nashville or Richmond or East Carolina, whenever I am on the road for any Tech function there is Atlee. And wherever there is Atlee there is good food and drink nearby. I had a very pleasant post game talking with old Hokie friends and meeting new ones, an experience heightened when my inquiry as to the availability of Wild Turkey brought an immediate shout of "Atlee" from Sandy and seconds later a bottle proffered. Tech fans rule.

Later that evening we shortened the lines of communication to our hotel room and made our way back to Buster and Dave’s, where we had a terrific time talking with both Hokies and Tigers, with the one notable exception of a drunken Clemson partisan who kept claiming the only reason we won was field position. Dude…, well duh.

Driving to bowl games is a heck of a lot more fun than driving home from them, but the hours and miles and Florida, Georgia and both Carolinas eventually passed and I found myself at home. It was a great trip and a great win. Let’s do it again soon. How long until the Spring Game?

Jim Alderson, who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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