bcatwilly wrote the following.
Sorry if long, but this is worth capturing IMO.
WOW, that is the one word that I would use to describe what I witnessed in Birmingham. But here are the details.
1. We got to Birmingham about 4:00 on Friday afternoon after car pooling, some in my group had travelled around 13 hours from eastern Ohio when it was all said and done.
2. We checked into the Wynfrey Hotel, which was the Bearcats team hotel. There were coaches and players walking all through the hotel, which was really cool. Jake Rogers was staring me right in the face when I came off the elevator.
3. The hotel was attached to the Riverchase Galleria, one of the largest malls in the U.S. with a nine-story glass atrium featuring the world's largest skylight, pretty incredible looking and all decorated for Christmas of course.
4. We walked around the mall for a while, and it was great to see so many Bearcat fans throughout the mall. Several Auburn fans stopped to chat about the Bearcats and wished us luck in the game. "Bones" Barnett must have covered 10 miles in the hour we were walking around, as he was really enjoying checking out all of the stores with some teammates.
5. The Bearcat Bama Bash/team pep rally at the hotel was scheduled for 8:00, and they were giving out free t-shirts, hats etc. as you came into the rooms. I don't know if I have ever seen that many people jammed into a couple of ballrooms at a hotel. The floor was literally rocking back and forth when the cheerleaders were getting people going, which made some of us a little uneasy at times.
Things ran behind schedule, so most of the people moved out into the mall area (the hotel lobby connects right into the main mall area) WITH the Bearcat band, cheerleaders and mascot. It was rather surreal seeing that a major mall at the peak of Christmas shopping season had just been invaded by Bearcat Nation as people spilled in from the hotel lobby. It was really cool, but the hotel manager seemed a little frantic that things were getting a little rowdy.
The Bearcat mascot had several drunken Bearcat gals hanging all over him, so we weren't quite sure if he would make it to the game the next day or not.
6. Eventually Dan Hoard and Mike Thomas spoke before giving way to Coach Kelly. It was a little hard for me to hear Dan and Mike clearly, but no such problem with Coach Kelly. He stood up on a chair above the crowd and addressed the fans saying that we were going to make a statement with our travelling to Birmingham. He also said that he promised we would be headed south for our bowl, which got quite a few laughs. He really knows how to pump up the fans.
7. They also had a former player party after the pep rally, and I saw Gino there. He seemed to be having a good time.
8. I talked with "Bones", and he seemed like a very cool guy. He was wearing his shades that were one of his bowl gifts. It was a shame that he got hurt in the game. We also got a chance to chat with Adam Hoppel who is from my hometown. He was a nice kid, and his family mentioned that they hoped fans would keep coming to more games next year.
9. We arrived to Legion Field at 9:00 yesterday morning, pulling into the UC tailgating area and seeing the huge inflatable Bearcat mascot. They were handing out pom-poms, inflatable "bam bams" that really made some noise, Bearcat beads etc. The team arrived on the buses, and they had us all bang on the buses as they arrived.
There had to be at least 500-1000 fans already at the tailgating area at this time. This was a lot of fun, and the players seemed to appreciate it as they got off the bus. I almost felt sorry for the Southern Miss players as they were getting of their bus with a half dozen fans standing there.
10. The official PapaJohns.com bowl area was kind of lame to be honest (UC did a much better job with everything this weekend in my opinion), but Bearcat fans definitely invaded everything. Once again I almost felt sorry for the Southern Miss fans that tried to weave their way through the throng of Bearcat fans.
11. When we got into the stadium it was definitely colder than the forecast had called for, but it sure didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the Bearcat fans. The official Bearcat sections were completely packed; I would guess we had 60-40 edge on the Southern Miss fans. The photo gallery from the UC site captioned one of the pictures by saying that 8,325 Bearcat fans travelled to Birmingham, and I can't dispute that number based on what I saw.
The other side of the stadium had a fair number of local fans that were definitely rooting for the underdog and southern team. I honestly was hoping for at least 5,000 actual butts in the seats, and to see several thousand more fans that that all standing, cheering and smacking the "bam bams" together in unison was something you really had to experience.
12. The fan support was really great throughout the game, and I truly believe that it helped the Bearcats overcome some early mistakes and Southern Miss momentum. The players turned up to the stands and waved their hands asking for support more than once. Imagine not long ago when a home game at Nippert may not have many more than what we had in Birmingham yesterday, the players and coaches had to feel great about that. This truly felt in the stands like some of the best Bearcat basketball games that I can remember in terms of interaction with other fans and really being into it, and this is a very neat thing to experience with Bearcat football.
13. The game was a lot of fun, especially watching Mauk scramble all over the place making plays like he does. Things were closer than some thought it would be, but Southern Miss was bringing their best effort all day long. One of the huge plays of the game and a picture that I will remember is seeing Connor Barwin emerge from that pile after the onside kick with the football held high.
14. After the Bearcats finally clinched it, the players were turned to the stands with all 10 fingers up for the big 10 win mark that they hit. Even with the 3 INTs, it is very hard to argue that there is any more valuable player on the Bearcats than Ben Mauk so it was neat to see him get the award and acknowledge all of the fans that were in the stands.
Coach Kelly genuinely seemed pumped when given the trophy and pumped it up and down multiple times toward the Bearcat faithful. I really think that it meant something to him too that Bearcat fans represented so well in coming to Birmingham. Boy I can't wait to see him hoisting a Big East Championship.
As I sit here completely drained from my whirlwind bowl trip I am already making road trip plans for the games next season. My wife has always wanted to go to Hawaii, so I even mentioned that to her. As long as I have my taser with me for any Hawaii fans it should be okay.
I truly believe that the Bearcat team needed the support in the stands and used it to overcome some early mistakes, momentum and sluggishness. I also firmly believe that it was a HUGE moment in Bearcat football history to have the fans make a travelling statement this year, and I think given all of the fun that I and other fans obviously had this will not be the last Bearcat home game, Bearcat road game and Bearcat bowl game that these fans and others that they share their experience with will attend.
I am so glad that I was there to be part of it, and my Dad who I talked into it at the last minute didn't regret his decision one minute. Yes we are a little drained today, but man that was some great fun and Bearcat memories. My 4 year old and 2 year old were already banging the "bam bams" together after I got home and screaming "Go Bearcats!" That is priceless.
Great Job Bearcat Nation!