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North to Miami

It was a trip that was much anticipated. From the time that Tech put away Fredo in the ACC Championship Game, securing a berth in the Orange Bowl, the notion of a journey to Miami was attractive. A few days spent frolicking in the signature South Florida warm weather, enjoying tropical breezes and libations under gently swaying palm trees beckoned. It promised to be a welcome respite from the cold early-January winter in Virginia. Unless it was not.

Five days later, we had returned home in search of warmer weather. Yikes, it was cold. When one thinks ‘Miami,’ one generally thinks of something other than daytime temperatures in the thirties accompanied by howling winds. Yet, that was what most of us who tagged along on Virginia Tech’s trip to the Orange Bowl got. Oh, well. It could have been worse. It certainly was back home as morning trips to the hotel’s Internet-connected computer revealed temperatures in the teens and twenties. ‘Record cold’ in south Florida gets kind of relative.

Conditions that are usually par for the course for November home games at Tech were the stuff of big news in Miami. The attractive young ladies that seemed to populate local television newscasts in large numbers kept reminding us that this was a cold snap almost never seen in these tropics. “Wear your winter coats” was a phrase uttered often by news anchors, always followed up with the obligatory, “If you have them.”

That was a problem for a young lady pulling waitress breakfast duty at a local restaurant. She related that when she and her husband relocated to the area from Massachusetts, morning temperatures of 33 with wind chills in the teens was not exactly what they had in mind. She informed us that she owned neither a winter coat nor any long-sleeved shirts and had spent the previous day buying them. The cold weather had created a retail boom, contributed to by members of our tailgate group who hopped out of bed on gameday and immediately set sail for the nearest outlet in search of gloves, mittens, stocking caps and anything else that would cut the chill that had crossed few minds while packing.

No matter the ambient temperature of the not-so-tropical Miami air, we were in south Florida. Therefore, a little sightseeing was in order. Jackets were donned and we were heading down I-95 from our suburban hotel. The first exit taken was one that bore the legend ‘Orange Bowl.’ We quickly found ourselves not in the presence of the former grand dame of football but a section of town not prominently featured in all of those tourist brochures.

While the locals stared at us, no doubt pondering how much in cash and credit cards we might have on our persons, we quickly determined that this might not be the Miami we cared to explore. We pulled in behind a taxi, figuring that he would know the quickest escape routes and were quickly back on the interstate. What could be glimpsed of the Orange Bowl from I-95 sufficed.

Downtown, we managed to pull into that portion of a gated high-rise community that was erected to keep people like us out. The security guard manning the gate quickly determined that we were tourists rather than DEA. A friendly sort, he gave us directions to places of greater interest than where Pablo Escobar might have visited, all the while genially ignoring the driver of the red sports car behind us who was laying down on his horn, obviously impatient to get to his penthouse and check the prices of cocoa leaf futures on the Bolivian market. It was, after all, a working day for those not attending the Orange Bowl.

Following a drive through Coconut Grove, we did eventually make our way to fabled South Beach. Alas, the supply of attractive bikini-clad young ladies running around was low. The best we could see were locals bundled up in heavy coats, scarves, stocking caps and anything else they could drape around themselves to ward off the frigid 40-degree temperatures. Drat our luck!

We did observe a negotiation on a street corner between a lady of the late morning and a potential client. This young lady, coupled with a scantily-clad one we had seen earlier outside a high school near our hotel accompanied by what looked a lot like her pimp, indicated that 1] either acceptable dress at Miami secondary schools is much different form what it was in Pittsylvania County when I attended or either sex ed classes in south Florida taught through the ‘hands on’ method and 2] those practicing Miami vice had a slogan similar to that of the United States Postal Service.

As is generally the case at bowls, they did eventually get around to playing the game. As is generally the case, things did not go so well for Tech. Quite frankly, and as I pointed out to traveling companions from time to time, you could see this coming from a mile off.

There was quite a bit of difference in how the two head coaches approached the game. In the days and weeks leading up to the game, Mark Mangino talked about a ‘business trip’ and the necessity of winning. Frank spoke of how Tech was heading to South Florida to ‘have fun.’

The marked differences in how the two teams were being prepared was remarked on in the local media, culminating in the Miami Herald informing me and everybody else that read Thursday’s paper that Vince Hall had been injured while ‘playing in the ocean.’ This was remarkable in that 1] The Tech players had time to be frolicking on the beach and 2] it had been warm enough to get anywhere near the water. Apparently there was something to all of those hotel employees asserting, ‘you should have been here yesterday.’

Frank is famous for taking a very casual attitude towards bowl games, regarding them as a vacation and a reward for a good season. That is exactly how I regard them, too. My responsibilities, however, center on a determined effort to avoid all responsibility and stuffing seafood into my mouth, not preparing a team for a bowl game. It will be interesting to see if Frank changes his approach in the future. An overall bowl record of 6-9 that includes four losses in the last five games speaks for itself.

The tough loss to Kansas does not denigrate from what was a very good season for Tech, despite the predictable and goofy message board squawking. Tech finished 11-3 and garnered its second ACC championship in four cracks at it. They have clearly established themselves as the dominant program in the ACC.

The problem is for all of Tech’s gridiron success, and there is plenty, it never seems to quite live up to all of the incessant hype that constantly blows out of Merryman like a cold Miami wind. Some people tend to believe it.

Another season is over, another championship one. It was also one that found me missing a chunk of the middle. Spending several weeks battling pneumonia from a prone position tends to reinforce that there are things of greater importance than who wins and loses football games. Being able to journey to them and spend time at them with good friends counts for much more.

Despite the weather and the game’s outcome, I had a very good time on this latest bowl trip. I always do.

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