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Nashville on my Mind

Is it warm enough for everybody? With Mother Nature decreeing that the July weather should closely resemble, well, July weather, a heat wave has locked up the Mid-Atlantic and a good chunk of the rest of the country. Temperatures soar into the Nineties, combining with humidity levels of roughly the same number, making any journey out of the air-conditioned comfort of my abode an adventure in perspiration. Adopting the altogether sensible policy of not venturing out into conditions that make manufacturers of Finnish saunas green with envy, I have taken to the Internet to discover how others are beating the heat. It seems that conference offices around the country have indeed come up with a novel method: they are visualizing late December.
The weather around these parts will likely have moderated a bit when fans begin thinking about heading south for a bowl game. Conference officials from Providence to Greensboro to Birmingham and everywhere else are locked in negotiations with various bowl officials from Jacksonville to Orlando to El Paso determining exactly where teams that manage to cobble together a winning record will be spending Rental Car Bowl Week for the next few years. While it might seem a bit silly to be thinking about warm weather bowl locales when conditions outside are every bit as disagreeable as those found in the nether regions, that is indeed what they are up to. It beats thinking about the weather.

Some conferences are having an easier time lining up bowl opportunities than others. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive can’t make it from the parking lot to his office without being besieged by guys wearing garish sport coats with logos such as ‘Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl’ or ‘Tailpipe Bowl’ splashed across them begging him to send a football team and twenty-five or thirty thousand fans to their extravaganza.

Bowl games are all about bowl cities coming up with a couple of teams with fan support sufficient enough to fill hotels, restaurants and bars in the host cities during what is normally a pretty dead tourist season. Slive and the SEC are in possession of a bunch of those teams and can basically pick and choose the best deals and cities for rabid SEC football fans to drop their coin. On the other end of the spectrum is the Li’l E, where Mikey stands outside bowl offices with a tin cup begging for the charity of a bowl agreeing to take one of his lightly-supported football outfits. Only Mikey could describe the Gator Bowl figuring out a way to reduce by seventy-five per cent the chances of getting stuck with Syracuse a “revolutionary” and “creative” approach to bowl deals. Mikey is also the guy scheming to send one of his teams to Toronto for what will probably be called the Arctic Bowl. While spending time in Canada doesn’t seem like such a bad idea during these dog days of July, it might not seem like such a hot proposal in December. It would, however, probably go well with the Li’l E’s deal with the Murder City Bowl. What more could one ask for than the opportunity to spend Christmas in beautiful Detroit?

Somewhere in the middle of the SEC’s numerous bowl opportunities and the paucity of those available to the Li’l E lies the ACC. Esteemed conference commish Little Johnny Swofford does have some high cards to play with bowl officials, such as the large traveling fan bases possessed by schools such as Virginia Tech, NC State, at least when Chuckie gets the Pack bowl eligible, and Clemson when the on-field brawl with South Carolina is not of a scale that causes university officials to prohibit a bowl trip as punishment.

The ACC also has some teams that are not quite so attractive to bowl organizers. The time can be measured in nanoseconds in which it takes Little Johnny to change the subject when bowl officials utter the words, ‘Wake Forest,’ ‘Miami,’ or conference newbie ‘Fredo.’ These are not schools known for sending a surfeit of fans to bowl games. At least the Deacons oblige by rarely becoming bowl eligible. The others do not, however and we have already noticed that the Canes are perhaps not going to win the ACC football championship year after year and land in the BCS. Someplace has to be convinced to take Miami for a bowl along with the empty seats and hotel rooms they will bring with them. With the news that the contract between the ACC and the Potato Bowl is likely to be extended, it can be expected that Fredo will be spending a lot of late Decembers in tropical Boise. The Hoos certainly seemed to have enjoyed it. That’s assuming, of course, that Tom O’Brien continues running the solid program he has constructed on the Heights and doesn’t find a taker from all of those other jobs he is chasing. It would seem Tom has an inkling of what is to come in the future for a Fredo now well out of his regional conference footprint.

The news recently informed us that the ACC is close to negotiating a deal for the conference to send a team to the Music City Bowl in Nashville. I suspect the ‘close’ means Little Johnny is saying to MCB officials something along the lines of “Who cares if Miami doesn’t bring any fans? Think of the television ratings,” an argument unlikely to cut much ice with bowl officials whose primary task is the maximizing of bartender tips. They are also not likely to be impressed with claims by Little Johnny of, “Don’t worry. In the unlikely event Wake has a winning record we’ll stash them in the Green Bowl or somewhere.” MCB officials once heard the exact same thing from Mikey. The result was having no-traveling Syracuse and Fredo foisted off on them. Even when the Music City lucked into West Virginia, it was the last game coached by ‘Grecian’ Don Nehlen and few of the Cousins had interest in attending. This was a situation that caused that bowl to throw up its hands in exasperation and cut a deal with the Big 11 the very instant the one with the Big East expired. The Music City Bowl has experience in dealing with conferences containing teams with solid track records of sending few fans to bowls and it is not a positive one.

Our Fearless League Leader does have a compelling argument, however, one in which the MCB has a more pleasant recollection. In 1998 Virginia Tech participated in the inaugural Music City Bowl. Twenty-thousand Hokies headed for Nashville, filling up half of Vanderbilt Stadium and jamming the downtown bars on Second Avenue. It was the bowl that cemented the reputation of the Tech fans as willing to travel in large numbers to bowls not named Sugar or Orange. The showing by the Hokies enabled Mikey to cut a three-year deal with the bowl before the very next year reverting to the ‘If you want to lose a bowl tie-end send Syracuse’ ploy that has worked so well with the Liberty and Champs as well as the MCB and has had the Gator go to extraordinary lengths to reduce its northern exposure.

I attended that 98 Music City Bowl. Tech played Alabama. The Tide was between probations and actually bowl legal. That the Hokies pounded ‘Bama 38-7 perhaps convinced the Tide they needed to buy some better players. All of my bowl trips have been pleasant, except for that three-hour layover at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport incurred while chasing the Tech team to San Francisco for the Nut Bowl. The bars charge entirely too much. The trip to the Music City was no exception.

It was great fun hanging with like-minded Hokies on Second Avenue both the night before the game and after Tech had dispatched the Tide. Even the ice storm that hit exactly at the opening kick-off was not a problem as we contained enough anti-freeze to consider a little sleet falling irrelevant [I would’t mind seeing a little sleet these scorching days]. The pre-game Tailgate was also a winner. This was in the pre-Clubhouse Tailgate days and we had arrived in the parking lot of Vanderbilt Stadium armed with little more than a case of beer, several dozen airline liquor bottles and a box of excellent cigars of Central American origin. It never once crossed our mind that we might get hungry.

I am a master at cadging food from bowl opponents. A couple of years later at the Gator Bowl we pulled into a parking lot and found ourselves in the midst of a den of Clemson Tigers. Their first words to us were an invitation to share the delicious shrimp they were grilling. They quickly discovered that they were dealing with fans that never, ever turn down free food. The next year at the very same Gator Bowl a pre-game conversation I struck up with an attractive young ‘Nole lady led to a post-game invitation to eat at the most sumptuous Tailgate buffet I have ever encountered, and I know a thing or two about eating Tailgate food prepared by other people. You don’t see many message board loons among the fans who actually GO TO THE GAME.

Such was the case at the MCB in 98. We barely had time to glance around the parking lot to determine our best possibilities for mooching food when an invitation came from the neighboring Alabama Tailgate to share the hamburgers and hot dogs they had on the grill. The recent seasons of partaking of the culinary talents of Clota and Larry at the Clubhouse Tailgate have honed my palate to the point that I would now respond to an offer of hamburgers with “Hamburgers? Is that the best you can do? Where’s the Cornish game hen?” but at the time it was welcomed.

The ‘Bama fans were fine folks. Among their group was the delightful Brandi [“With an ‘I’”]. It’s not every Tailgate where you meet an opposing fan, or even one from your own team, whose ideas of Tailgating include knocking down a fifth of Old Granddad straight from the bottle and reminiscing about her days as a Hooter’s waitress. I have advised jimmy on a number of occasions to set up a permanent OOC series with Alabama so that I might have the opportunity to spend more quality Tailgating time with Brandi, but nothing has ever come of it.

I do not count myself among those message board loons who profess unconcern about the so-called ‘minor’ bowls negotiated by the ACC. Those clowns claim that Tech will be participating in the BCS each and every year from now into affinity so it makes no difference where the secondary bowls are played. They have been claiming the same since MV Classic made his Lane Stadium debut and it has happened exactly once since that magical 99 season. While I certainly would not object if Tech football success caused me to purchase a time-share on Bourbon Street for New Year’s week, the chances are very good that over the years Tech will be playing in quite a few of the bowls available for those not crowned ACC Champions. There are no bad bowls or bowl trips.

I wish Little Johnny Swofford and his ACC minions at Grandover the best of luck in locking up a conference tie-in to the Music City Bowl. I wouldn’t mind heading back to Nashville one bit. If it is any cooler in Nashville than it is in Danville I wouldn’t mind if the game were played next week. Maybe I would again run into Brandi.

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