In a fit of madness, I decided to go to the Orange Bowl to cover the game between Oklahoma and Clemson.
And I decided to drive. And take the family. And the dog.
We drove 3,100 miles to Miami and back. Fortunately, Susan’s folks live in Orlando (1,200 miles from Tulsa and 250 miles from the Orange Bowl), so we had a nice break in the cross-country drive.
Usually, we fly to Orlando because Allegiant Air flies into Sanford, Florida (20 miles from my in-law’s house) and they have really inexpensive fares and nonstop flights. But the fares go up around Christmas and we didn’t have time to plan the trip earlier in the fall because we didn’t know OU would be in the Orange Bowl.
It took two days to travel through (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida) to get to Winter Park (Orlando area) and two full days of driving to get back.
We left Tulsa two days after Christmas during a downpour. It rained on us steadily until we got past Memphis and headed south to Birmingham, Alabama, where we spent the night.
I would recommend the Drury Inn in Birmingham. We got a two-room suite at a reasonable price and they didn’t charge us for our little Boston terrier. Drury Inn has a fabulous free breakfast with real scrambled eggs, sausage, make-your-own waffles, cereal, fruit and really good coffee. They also serve free hot dogs and snacks each night from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
We stayed there on the way and on the way back.
With most of the family staying in Winter Park, my son Brian and I went to Miami for the game. I was covering the game in the press box while Brian shot photos from the sideline.
We stayed two nights in an “extended stay” hotel in Fort Lauderdale because that was the best hotel deal we could find at the late date. The hotel was in a rough part of town with no nearby restaurants – just a 7-11 across the street. The room was clean, the beds were comfortable and they had free coffee in the morning.
Each hotel cost the same but there was a world of difference from a beautiful, spacious suite in Birmingham to cramped hotel room near Miami.
It was a long drive. Most of the route was fine, with smooth highways and reasonable traffic. The bad traffic spots were from Little Rock to Memphis, from Gainesville to Orlando and from Orlando to Miami.
Imagine the traffic in central Miami at night on New Year’s Eve. It was worse than what you might think.
The game was a bust. OU led 17-16 at half time but fell apart in the second half and lost 17-37. Losing was bad but being surrounded by a sea of Clemson fans was pretty miserable.
Clemson is about 700 miles from Miami and Tulsa is twice that far. The Orange Bowl is home to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Clemson fans love to go south for a football game.
Even though the Orange Bowl is a “neutral site,” there were probably eight Clemson fans for every two Sooner fans. And the workers at the Orange Bowl wear orange shirts so they look like Clemson fans.
(I noticed the same problem last year when OU played Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando. There was a sea of orange with very little crimson and cream).
The Orange Bowl Committee is very good to the media, with a week full of special events, meals, entertainment and a commemorative shirt. My only gripe is that I was seated on the third row in back of the press box in the west end of Sun Life Stadium. I couldn’t see either scoreboard and I had to literally stand up to see the end zone in our end.
I wish Oklahoma could have played Alabama or Michigan State (especially Michigan State) in the Cotton Bowl, which was the other national semifinal. A lot more Oklahoma fans could have attended in Dallas.
Had OU gone to the Rose Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, I probably would have gone to Shreveport to see Tulsa play Virginia Tech. That was one of the most entertaining bowl games this year. A trip to the Sugar Bowl to see Oklahoma State play Mississippi would have been nice, but once again Ole Miss was playing in its own back yard.
The worst part of our trip to the Orange Bowl was that we only had eight days. That meant four days of travel to get to Florida and two half-days to get to Miami.
Florida is a fascinating place and I wish I could have slowed down and seen some of the sights. We did stop in Vero Beach (about 100 miles south of Orlando) to visit my brother Ben and his wife, Helen.
There were times I wished I were sitting in my living room watching the game but now I can mark “attend an Orange Bowl game” off my bucket list.