10 January 2011

What They Don't Show on ESPN

What a difference a week makes. This time last week, we were in Miami, enjoying the Orange Bowl. Today we are snowed in at home, wondering when Atlanta will thaw enough to risk automobile travel.

The Cuddly Hubby and I celebrated the beginning of 2011 with a trip to the Orange Bowl. Cuddly Hubby got his undergraduate engineering degree at Stanford. As the Cardinal doesn't play on the east coast all that often, much less in a major bowl game, we decided to attend. Plus, there had been a lot of talk about bowl games not wanting a team like Stanford because they don't "travel well." Message heard and answered!

We made this a quick run to Miami from Atlanta. We drove to Kissimmee, Florida on New Year's Day. We left heavy rain in Georgia, which meant slower conditions on I-75. I had consoled myself that the slower speed would translate into better fuel efficiency, but then we encountered a major traffic snarl around Macon due to a bad traffic accident. On Sunday we drove the rest of the way to Miami, once again getting stuck in a traffic backup on the Florida Turnpike. We also got lost on our way to our hotel. And we got lost again on our way to the rally in South Beach. A helpful travel note: it costs close to $20 in tolls each way to drive the length of the Florida Turnpike, but as access is much more limited than I-95 and the route is more direct, the price can be worth the time saved.

Once we got ourselves parked and out and about at South Beach, the aggravation was rewarded. It was a fine evening. We sat outdoors and dined on local seafood. We got the NFL scores update. (Hurray, Falcons!) We admired the Art Deco architecture. We enjoyed a rally on the beach featuring bands from both universities. We walked in the sand. We followed The One, the Only, the Truly Incomparable Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band as they ran up and down Ocean Drive, pausing to play a tune or two at each intersection. It was a great date night!

We slept in on game day, then ate a big lunch and headed to the stadium. Although it cost a few bucks, we did go into the fan experience. It was a good way to spend the pre-game if you weren't tailgating. There was a small Ferris wheel and some activities such as mechanical bull riding. (We watched the bull riding.) We both liked the photo ops -- one with an ESPN booth set-up and another with the Orange Bowl trophy! We got to watch the bands perform again. And there was a tent with memorabilia from over seventy years of Orange Bowl games. That just whets my interest in the new College Football Hall of Fame which should open here in Atlanta in 2013.

The game experience was great! First off, lots of Stanford people heeded the call to please travel well. Cuddly Hubby ran into several friends from his bright college days with the Stanford band. So in some ways, it was like an all-class reunion. And I now understand why Miami gets to host the Super Bowl so much. Sun Life Stadium is very nice. The view to the field is completely unobstructed, so there isn't a bad seat in the house. And the large ramps make it easy for crowds to flow in and out. The first half of the game was close, with a 13 to 12 score at halftime. I was a little concerned about Stanford limping along on a one-point lead. Mistakes were made in the first half. But both the Stanford offense and defense came out strong in the second half. Final score: Stanford 40, Virginia Tech 12. And do note here that although Andrew Luck and the offense get a lot of the glory, the defense did a great job making sure that missed extra points, an interception, and a safety did not upset Stanford's game.

We hung around after the game for the presentation of the trophy. Stanford finished the season 12-1, with only the loss to unbeaten Oregon. Along the way they beat USC (for which the other eight Pac 10 teams give thanks), won back the axe from Cal, won a trip to Miami for themselves and the band, and won a lovely crystal fruit bowl with oranges. We stayed after the trophy presentation to listen to the band play, because the band always rocks! When they were done, we reluctantly headed outside.

We happened to come to an area where the team buses were parked. Some people were waiting. Cuddly Hubby suggested we join them. It turns out many of these people were the families of the players. As the players came out in their warm-up suits, they would sometimes stop to exchange greetings with their families. These are the truly beautiful moments you don't see on ESPN. Most of these young men will never play professional football. I'm sure their parents were thrilled they could get a top quality education at Stanford in exchange for playing good football. The joy they shared with their families is the special joy for which English does not have an adequate word. It is the joy of working hard for a long time, and actually succeeding beyond your dreams. It was a privilege to see it and be near it, and then to wave good-bye to the champions as the buses pulled away.

It was about 2 AM when we got back to our hotel. Check-out was 11 AM. We slept some -- it was hard to fall asleep after so much excitement. We got up, checked out, grabbed some sandwiches, and drove home, good traffic and weather with us and fuel efficiency not withstanding. We left the hotel about 11:30 AM and got home just after 10 PM. As we got back to Atlanta, I reflected on what a lovely "date weekend" we had, and how truly blessed life can sometimes be. To Coach Harbaugh, the Stanford football team, the Stanford band, and the many behind-the-scenes organizers: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for a warm and wonderful way to welcome a new year! May everyone have moments in their lives as joyful as the ones we witnessed on Monday night.

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