Gator Bowl Travelogue

A gold rental car, lack of preparation, and an anti-climactic pep rally failed to spoil the best NC State road trip ever.

If you made the trek down to the Gator Bowl, you were rewarded with possibly the biggest game NC State has ever won. If you were anything like me, beforehand you worried that if you didn't do things just right, you'd jinx the Pack and singlehandedly be responsible for the loss. Taking a cue from Chuck Amato, who made sure to wear the same sunglasses he had been donning before he switched and State started losing, I packed only items I had worn (and, yes, had since washed) during NC State victories. For this trip to go well, karma had to be working in my favor.

Naturally, things started out badly. Me and my Gator Bowl Posse decided to rent a car so we could ride down I-95 in style. At 6:30 in the morning we were given our choice of fine General Motors mid-size and full-size sedans, and we knew our selection would predicate the success of the rest of the trip. From a stable of domestic war horses comprising a Malibu, Stratus, and Intrepid, we selected the Intrepid, observing its luxurious leather interior, though we could never confirm if this leather was indeed Corinthian. Under the cover of the early morning darkness, however, we did not observe that the Intrepid happened to be a shade of goldish bronze. Driving to the Gator Bowl in a giant Notre Dame helmet was not the ideal way to express one's support for the Pack, but since we didn't realize this until we stopped at a gas station in Dillon, SC, this was our fate.

Couple this oversight with my Gator Bowl Posse's failure to remember any NC State flags, windsocks, or magnets, the karma did not look good for our pilgrimage. As we became more aware of our failure to "represent," the only thing left to do was annoyingly flash the Wolf-hand gesture to all fellow Wolfpackers on the road. Surprisingly, this never got old. Furthermore, innovative graduates that we are, we took time at Texaco (their logo is red! No green and yellow BP for us!) to use my wife's heretofore unopened bar of Dove soap to appropriately adorn the Insipid, as it came to be called, with illustrations befitting a car full of die-hard State fans. For those who may have passed us on the highway, it should be noted that the Block S logo is a lot harder to draw than it looks, particularly using soap. While we were holding up the pump to draw illegible designs on our windows, a gentleman in a camaro pulled up beside us, rolled his windows down, and blasted the NC State fight song, then politely asked to borrow our Dove. Suddenly, the karma seemed to be turning our way.

Then we went to the pep rally. Now, arriving in downtown Jacksonville was a glorious occasion. Everywhere we looked we saw red, red, red, and everywere we went we heard thick North Carolina Southern accents. We definetly weren't in Cary anymore.

We found our way to "The Landing," which we were initially unable to distinguish from the Riverside or the Bayview, and were greeted by throngs of State fans. As throngs tend to do, each throng had already claimed its spot for the pep rally two hours before the rally started. While me and my Gator Bowl Posse managed to claim our own tiny patch of real estate, albeit disappointingly out of reach of Hooters, a stopgap band of some sort was pouring their heart into a medley of Hungry Like the Wolf and Play That Funky Music, and at one leg of the U-shaped outdoor food court a giant screen had the message "Place Message Here" projected onto it.  We knew that with all the excitement this early, we were going to be treated
to a dazzling multimedia extravaganza.

After forcing back the crowd, in came the marching band and cheerleaders, and the big screen flashed to a Windows desktop, and then to a red background on top of which read the words "The Power Sound of the South." The crowd screamed, and the cheerleaders led us in a raucous "Wolf"-"Pack" cheer. Then the band played, and the Pack faithful sang along to the fight song with a vigor that would scare the fight out of most any beligerent Irishman.

Then the band played that Gary Glitter song, then the "You Suck" song, and then that Wolfpack Band staple, the "Final Countdown" by Europe. Then it played the fight song again. Then an unseen woman, allegedly Mary Anne Fox, spoke into a microphone in very spirited tones that no one could understand. After she finished, the crowd simultaneously hollered back, as clear as day, "What?". With that, the band and cheerleaders exited and the crowd, dazed and confused, dispersed. Things were again looking less than auspicious.

Further dampening our spirits was the fact that we were not staying at the epicenter of activity, the Adam's Mark Hotel on the Riverfront, but in a LaQuinta Inn down by the river 15 miles out of the way. This was a direct result of my Gator Bowl Posse being lazy unplanned bastards, which was also why we had no idea what we were doing for New Year's Eve. It should be noted that as the scribe of this tale, by default I am exempt from all blame. So, we asked the friendly LaQuinta clerk what was going on in town this New Year's Eve, and she replied that she knew what she was doing tonight, but we would have to find plans on our own.

Disheartened, we went to Bennigans. Only the most ubiquitous chain of Irish pubs in the country, it didn't occur to us that this was stupid. It turned out to be "closed," but I think they just locked the door when they saw our NC State Gator Bowl Posse roll up.

We finally found ourselves at a rather nice watering hole that was open late, but gave in to temptation when our lovely server told us that if she sold the most banana splits then she'd win free tickets to the Gator Bowl. We said we'd buy one only if she pulled for NC State. She said she was going to pull for Notre Dame, because that's who her roommate's boyfriend liked. We went ahead and got the banana split anyway, disregardful of the test of loyalty and faith we just failed. In all fairness, this was a freakin' banana split, and the server was way hot.

All this bad mojo was against us, but the Irish and their Lucky Charms still got stomped by the Pack. Granted, in the first quarter it didn't necessarily seem like it would be that way. Despite a sunny forecast, dark clouds rolled in and sprinkled showers over what seemed like only the west side of the stadium, while questionable yellow flags against State poured onto the field and State's opening drive was a dreadful three-and-out. However, all we needed was a little faith, and at 35,000 strong, we had more than enough. Alltel Stadium bled more red than Kenan Stadium in its darkest hour, as State fans showed up early and stayed late.

After worrying all season about how to find the right combination of superstition and pattern, we finally worked it out. The stars are most likely to align in your team's favor if it happens to include Andre Maddox, Dantonio Burnette, and Rod Johnson. If Philip Rivers and Jerricho Cotchery are also on your team, then you can walk all over as many four-leaf clovers as you want, fate will still ultimately smile on you.

We hated to leave, but after the game we headed straight home. Our gold Dodge Intrepid must have glittered brightly under the stars as we brazenly sped up I-95, and all was right with our world. Even if the rain had long washed off all of the Intrepid's soapy NC State logos.

You can email the author at brett@struttingwolf.com


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