Lion Fans Paint Miami Blue & White

MIAMI BEACH -- Penn State and Florida State meet in the 72nd Orange Bowl near Miami Tuesday. While the split of fans from the participants is typically fairly even, in the week leading up to this year's game town was heavily painted in shades of Blue and White.

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Asked how many Florida State fans he had seen as of Monday, Dave Flora, a 1978 Penn State grad living in Chicago, said, “Not a one.”

Added Reading, Pa., native Brian Kobularcik: “Penn State fans have pretty much taken over the area, from The Keys to Fort Lauderdale. It is nothing but a sea of Blue and White.”

Theories on why there is such a huge disparity in fans are many. One suggests that Penn State backers are bowl starved, having only been to one postseason game this century and having never been in a BCS bowl.

Another says Florida State fans will arrive en masse on the day of the game because the school, located in Tallahassee, Fla., is within driving distance. Of course, that depends on one's definition of “driving distance.” MapQuest directions put the time of the drive at more than seven hours.

Still others wonder if Penn State's success (the Lions were not ranked in the preseason Top 25 but stunned everyone by going 10-1) coupled with FSU's disappointing 8-4 campaign (including three straight losses to end the regular season) are playing roles.

Whatever the case, Penn State fans have taken over the Miami area, and in one instance literally painted things Blue and White. Joe O'Connell, a Philadelphia native who now runs the Parrot Lounge in Fort Lauderdale, made his place and unofficial official hangout for the PSU crowd, painting a entire wall dark blue with a white school logo.

In Miami, former Lions O.J. McDuffie and Ki-Jana Carter staged a party at a place called the Crow Bar. Linebacker great Brian Gelzheiser was spotted hanging out poolside at the ritzy Fontainbleau. And All-American running back Blair Thomas has been all over the place, pitching his new line of interactive trading cards.

“Everyone has that feeling we had when we won national championships,” Thomas said. “The players will feed off of that.”

Yet outside of the current Seminole players and coaches, anyone who doesn't already know Florida State is in the Orange Bowl would have no idea of PSU's opponent.

“I think we're going to have more Penn State fans at the game than Florida State fans,” PSU president Graham Spanier said. “The level of enthusiasm is incredible.”

Clarice Conte is a longtime PSU fan from New Castle, Pa., and said her stay in Miami -- where the weather had been magnificent and the ocean water calm but slightly cool -- has been great. She was among the 10,000 Lion followers who filled the Miami Beach Convention Center of the school's official pep rally Monday.

“We love the weather, the people and the enthusiasm of all the fans,” she said.

And she is not alone. Whether strolling the boardwalks nestled up to the Atlantic Ocean, cruising among the eclectic eateries and shops of South Beach, or stopping by the lobbies of the many upscale hotels in town, every cry of “We Are!” is met with the requisite response of “Penn State!”

Meanwhile, Florida State's well-known tomahawk chop is nowhere to be found.

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