I have heard tales of times when bowl games were not giant, multiday events filled with sponsors and tents and merchandise. I assume those days were both sepia-toned and anodyne. Also, the exact opposite of what’s been happening in Miami.
If you want spectacle, you couldn’t do much better than here.
The only way to really describe the atmosphere on South Beach last night is to imagine the Las Vegas Strip turned inside-out so everything is happening on the streets. Neon signs and flashing lights shone in the cool night sky, mixing with the red, white, blue, and gold banners and ribbon and balloons festooned on each hotel, restaurant and bar. Each few steps took you from one sound system to another, all competing to see who could blast music the loudest while the air stayed a pungent mix of perfume and Cuban food.
The famous Ocean Drive was closed to traffic, so each establishment essentially doubled in size by spilling over the sidewalk and onto the street. Comely hostesses shoved menus at every passerby to sell them on the deals; if ignored, they just danced to the three simultaneous and dissonant drumbeats bouncing around their ears.
And the sales job didn’t start or end at the front of the restaurants, since people were wandering through them like the abrogated sidewalk was still supposed to function as a normal sidewalk. When you got up after finishing dinner, you would inevitably be asked by each passing waiter whether you needed a table.
All of this was turning over in my head again this morning while walking past the park where Notre Dame will have a tailgate party before the game tomorrow. As I passed a woman and her husband, she turned to him and said, “Wait — this is for a college football game?!?”
Oh, yes indeed.
Prior to this game, I have only attended two bowl games in my life, the Fiesta Bowl in January 2001 and the Gator Bowl in January 2003. Since the Fiesta was also a BCS contest then, it has the strongest parallels to this experience, but all of those parties were coupled with New Year’s Eve — it was hard to see what was done just because of the game and what was done because of one of the biggest party nights of the year.
And man, that Fiesta Bowl has nothing on this weekend. I don’t know if it is the sun and sand in January, the long absence between championship runs, or the unique cocktail of sensory overload Miami serves nightly, but Notre Dame fans are walking around in their own personal Dali painting.
An estimated 20,000 came to the pep rally last night to hear such speakers as Mike Golic, Martin Short, and Lou Holtz, but it felt like people came more just to be near one another, to remind themselves that this is, in fact, actually happening. Once the pep rally was over, South Beach was basically swarmed by Notre Dame fans. Anecdotally, it sure appears that Alabama is outnumbered here, something that could happen when you are on championship run No. 3 in four years. They have definitely been quieter than Oregon State fans were in January 2001, which is kind of a compliment, actually.
I’m not getting the sense that ND fans are ready to boast and brag at the moment, either, minus at the pep really where such things are par for the course. Each fan I see and talk to seems to still be processing the fact that the team is playing for the national title and not in another glorified exhibition game. There is some fear of Alabama, a formidable team based on recent successes alone, and some hope that the game does not resemble other BCS contests.
But I’m also getting the sense something is quietly building behind all of our glazed looks. Deep inside us, we are starting to remember what it is like to be No. 1 and playing for the title; we are starting to believe that not only are we playing for the national title, but that we could actually hoist the crystal football on Monday night. In other words, I think the rest of us are finally catching up to the football players themselves.
I just hope they don’t try and find an epiphany on South Beach before the game. Get some sleep, fellas.
Liam Farrell is the alumni editor of this magazine.