Now I know why the Super Bowl seems to be in Miami every three years. I know why the BCS Championship Game is there every four years.
To put it crudely: Miami is EFFING AWESOME. The weather is beautiful. The people were amazing. There is so much to do there between the bars and parties…and for some reason I don’t think slapping “Notre Dame” or “Alabama” on the titles mean these parties are happening any less this weekend. They just don’t have all the ESPN personalities invading them.
I’ve been to central Florida in the winter. The weather is mild in Orlando (host of the then-named Champs Sports Bowl I attended last year featuring Notre Dame and Florida State) and for those of us from northern Indiana, shorts and tees do well in the sun. A little chilly at night? Toss on a sweatshirt. Boom, comfy.
Drive just four hours south to downtown Miami where the party raged on Monday afternoon for the Notre Dame Game Day party was hosted and it’s a whole new world. I was hot. Like uncomfortably hot at times. Or as Gaelic Storm frontman Patrick Murphy says, “This is the precise temperature at which an Irishman melts.” Shade was a premium and I definitely had my share of water bottles to match my Jameson and Sprites.
I’m getting ahead of myself here and skipping one of my favorite parts of the day. As per a tradition with several of my friends and I, my game day gear includes a number three home jersey and a green kilt. I had not even made it into the omelet station line at the hotel breakfast (Embassy Suites in Deerfield Beach is amazing, by the way) before another Irish fan requested a picture with yours truly.
My girlfriend, who is every bit an Irish fan as me and on 358 days a year is also far cuter than I am, always rolls her eyes at this. It happens to me every game (I’m still not sure why seeing a man in a kilt at a Fighting Irish game is so strange, more people should do it…the air flow alone is reason enough). “It’s the only time people pay more attention to you than me.”
She’s not wrong.
We arrived shortly before noon, just in time to see the stage come to life. The ticketed party offered free food, beer and wine as well as plenty of entertainment. There were two men dressed as clownish leprechauns riding on bikes and wearing stilts, playing with the kids and the crowd. A long line formed to take pictures with ND memorabilia for a keepsake.
But the stage was where the show happened. It started out small: Dick Vitale got the crowd warmed up with his overrun antics of screaming hyperbole. He was followed by Cris Collinsworth, NFL analyst and father of Irish safety Austin Collinsworth. Cris wasn’t the greatest Irish cheerleader to ever pick up a microphone but he brought an exceptionally strong perspective from a parent. I imagine it to be similar to Mike Golic Sr. at the pep rally but without the alma mater. Collinsworth may not be an ND man himself, but he sure as hell was an ND dad.
Brief appearances by the ND cheerleaders and leprechaun as well as former Irish player Luther Bradley set up the Notre Dame version of a Vaudeville act. Everybody’s favorite Irish cheerleader, Regis Philbin, joined forces with fan and Irish father, comedian Martin Short to provide loads of laughter. There wasn’t much said on stage for fifteen minutes but I definitely laughed a lot. Totally worth it.
They were followed up by internet sensation and Notre Dame alum Pat McKillen singing his song “T’e0” (set to Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O”). The crowd, of course, loved it…but the party ended shortly after. McKillen stuck around a bit to sing more of his own music, but it was like the guy who brings his guitar to the party: no one really likes it and we all went to get drinks instead.
Luckily, Irish rock group Gaelic Storm, truly stole the show. As mentioned before, the blaring sun reaching its peak just as the band took the stage, the crowd was heated and the drinks were flowing. We didn’t know the words to their songs (there were about five true fans of the band there and somehow my girlfriend was one of them) but we sure as hell enjoyed their music. Murphy is hilarious and really knew how to interact with the crowd and having a cute fiddler seemed to help with a lot of the middle-aged men who were a bit lost among the younger party-goers.
No one wanted the party to stop but we knew it was time to start heading north to the stadium. The band had turned red in the face from rocking and from burning in the sun. The bars were about to close down. Only one last thing to do.
Early in the show, Murphy joked to one of the fans that he’d like to take a dip in the large fountain in the middle of the park. This fountain is not easy to get to: climb over a fence, drop down a slope about 15 feet, then climb up a slippery wall. The crowd laughed but Murphy had bigger plans. During the encore, he started removing his body mic. He took his belongings out of his pockets. He nodded to the front row fans and jumped down — the race was on.
The crowd, not fully believing it, started running with them. Any minute now, the security staff would step in and stop the party; the crowd would boo and we’d all go watch the game.
Murphy and two fans hopped the fence, took off their shoes and socks, and climbed the fountain wall. One of the loudest cheers of the day occurred as the three held hands high in triumph, clothes soaked from inside the refreshing pool. “Let’s Go Irish!” they chanted and the thousands of fans still around responded with the same fervor.
The mood was high. The crowd was ready. It was time.
Fighting traffic to get to the casino near the stadium wasn’t easy but we made it in time. We had no tickets, we just wanted to be near the action. Sadly we didn’t make it in time to hit up the tailgates, but we did make it to the casino in time to lose all the free money they gave us for signing up for new accounts. (Actually we left with almost 25 bucks between the four of us, but believe me: that didn’t cover our bar tabs)
I’m not going to get into details about the game in this post. I’m probably going to put that into another one with complete thoughts later. The casino bar was packed, probably easily over 100 people and the bartenders were WAY under the water on this one. They weren’t used to a sports crowd. They were used to the demand. The bar I work at would have relished in this situation but these people couldn’t take more than one order at a time and were just over-matched. Finally we wizened up and grabbed at least two drinks a person.
It wasn’t a bad party, though, despite all the bar craziness. It was loud and rambunctious. Everyone was chanting and we all wanted to have fun.
That changed in a hurry.
Alabama scored early. Then they scored often. Notre Dame fans stuck with their team until the ending of the second quarter when it seemed all was lost after the Crimson Tide scored their fourth touchdown. Eventually even the Alabama fans quieted, not wanting to cross the line between cheering and gloating.
Actually I was terribly impressed with the manners exhibited by Tide fans throughout my trip. They were nothing like the SEC fans from Florida and Louisiana that were riding the coattails of the latest NCAA dynasty by calling it conference pride.
The trip back to the hotel was quiet. We had questions. It was a disappointing end to an amazing season.
At breakfast the mood was muted, but not sad. Notre Dame shirts still dominated the restaurant and lobby. We talked about seeing everyone in Pasadena next year.
I’m sad the seniors didn’t get to raise that trophy but it will happen for this team. We all knew it. It didn’t happen this year but it’s just a matter of time. That’s what I learned this weekend. Not just that Bama was better (and for those three hours, they were WAY better) but also that we were back. We were back as a team, as a school and as a fan base. This will happen again.
I just really hope it happens again in Miami.