Imagine a World of Camping: Bowl Season, part 1

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December 28th 2019
Published: December 29th 2019
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This was an odd experience, since the game itself was fantastic, but everything surrounding it was a bit lackluster (and even downright frustrating). First off, let me say that I was excited I would get to attend a second game involving Notre Dame in which none of my loyalties would be questioned. Also, I could attend a game for a reasonable price. When the matchup was announced in early December, I was also thrilled that it would be in a location relatively close to home. I contemplated making it an overnight trip, especially since the kickoff time was set at noon. But with the money situation, the decision to do a day trip to Orlando was much more palatable. Wake up around 5:00, leave before 6:00, and then be back home in time to watch some of the Playoff games that night. Camping World Stadium in Orlando was right at 3.5 hours from my parents’ house, so it would be a 7-hour round trip. Not optimal, but it was better than the Alabama day trip I took back in October.

Nothing against Camping World, but I will say that the name of the stadium and the bowl game is symbolic of all that’s wrong with college football. I realize that the amateur sport is basically a de facto professional sport, where money is what makes the world go ‘round. And bowl games exist (at least nowadays) as profit-generating businesses. But the Camping World Bowl in Camping World Stadium is a bit much, doncha think?

Notre Dame has a few bowl tie-ins, either explicitly or as a covert member of the ACC. With the Camping World Bowl, the ACC affiliation was responsible for bringing Notre Dame to the table. This was pretty obvious, since all the pre-announcement materials listed the game as an ACC-Big XII matchup. I have to imagine, though, that whoever gets Notre Dame in their bowl game must be thrilled, since the school always sells out of its ticket allotments because its fans travel very well. Notre Dame is one of those national brands, like Oklahoma or Ohio State or Alabama or the New York Yankees. You get the picture. And since this was a game in a warm state, it was guaranteed to attract people looking to get away from a cold winter in northern Indiana, or wherever they might be located.

This tendency, however, made tickets for the game more expensive than I had anticipated. But as I have learned my lesson—namely, waiting for ticket prices to fall as the event approaches—I wasn’t too worried. What I absolutely WON’T pay is $100 or more. While the tickets never got that high, the addition of fees and shipping and whatnot did make them initially over $100. So I waited. Sometime around December 15th, I found a price on that I was willing to pay. I also prefer to have physical tickets, not electronic or mobile tickets. Yeah, I’m quirky. This was the cheapest I had seen a ticket like this, so I ordered. And let me just say, after all the headache with this ticket website, I will never order a ticket from them again.

I had been using StubHub all season, with no problems. VividSeats is the company partnered with ESPN—if you go to their website, the ticket prices that are shown are from VividSeats, and you can even click on that price to open up a new browser tab there. With fees, the ticket on this website was about $5 less than on StubHub, and since it is partnered with ESPN, I thought it would be reputable. First off, they are reputable. The problem came when the seller sent the wrong ticket to me. It was same section, same seat number, but one row back (Row T instead of Row S, which I had ordered). It wasn’t a big deal, but I called just to make sure that everything was in order. That’s where I went wrong. Lots of automated menus and no direct line to customer service. And it’s not a typical problem they deal with. But they did agree to get me a better ticket (again, I would’ve been fine with the one I was sent). Three days later, doing a Live Chat on their website, I was given a mobile ticket and was told that was that. Sure. At this point, I would still have no problem recommending them. But then the aftermath. An email, a phone call (which I missed), and two more Live Chats later, at which point I am SO over automated phone menus and Live Chats, I’m told that they want me to send the physical ticket back. They’ll send me a shipping label and I don’t have to pay anything. It’s Christmas Eve, y’all, and the event is three days after Christmas. How they gonna expect to get it back to the seller and then have time to get it somewhere else by then? I exited the Live Chat when they said that. They call me later on and tell me the same thing. I give them some excuses about not being able to, blah blah, and end by suggesting that they tell the seller to convert it to a mobile ticket if they really wanna sell it. I promise them that I won’t use it, sell it, or give it away (and I didn’t), and they thank me for my time and hang up. And that’s that. So if you want to use them, fine, just don’t contact customer service or you may never hear the end of it (if you can ever get in touch with any actual person). Sorry for that digression, but I’ve been scammed before, and I find it worthwhile to hear stories like this to avoid future problems.

Anyway… I left at 5:45 AM to head to Orlando, and I must say it was quite a smooth trip. Still enjoying the Sun Pass toll gizmo that I bought before Spring Break. That thing is wonderful. Orlando can be reached without using toll roads, but it adds another 30+ minutes to the trip. I arrived at a parking lot near the game shuttle around 9:15. It cost $10 to park, which was less than I was expecting (parking around the stadium was only pre-paid and a minimum of $40. Hard pass). Then the shuttle took us to the stadium. It was only about a mile to walk, but the shuttle was free and only two blocks from my parking space. Smooth, clean, and efficient. We were dropped off one block from the stadium, and after the game, the buses would be there waiting again.

As we were exiting the bus, a large group of people wearing referee jerseys (black and white stripes) was crossing in front of the bus. They were mostly adults, with a few children. In many hands were homemade signs decrying the forced vaccination of children. Oh, great. Some antivaxxer morons. They were congregating near the portable toilets near the shuttle drop-off, and I couldn’t think of a better place for them to be. I walked through them and headed to the stadium (they were gone before I got back after the game, mercifully).

Camping World Stadium isn’t all that big. I could see it from the Turnpike before I exited, but up close, it’s nothing to get excited about. It seats 65,000, but most of the upper bowl was empty for this game (I have no idea if they were even selling tickets for most of that section). The official attendance for the game was just under 47,000. It was pretty evenly split, at least from my vantage point in the stadium. The opposite side was pretty uniformly red (with some yellow in there), and my side had very little red in it. The problem with Notre Dame is the assortment of color possibilities, which makes it hard to tell when looking at a group. The primary colors are blue and gold, but green is an alternate color, and lots of clothing is white with these colors printed on them. So while the Iowa State side looked like a single block, the Notre Dame side probably looked like a patchwork of blue, green, and white (not many people wear solid gold).

As is typical in a bowl game where the teams don’t have a history with each other, the fan bases were polite to each other. Indeed, this was the first meeting ever between Notre Dame and Iowa State. But the matchup showed how odd some of the bowl pairings can be. Notre Dame was ranked 14th or 15th (depending on which poll), with a record of 10-2 coming into the game. Iowa State was unranked, with a record of 7-5. Did people expect this to be a good matchup? The Vegas people did, giving Notre Dame only a slight edge to win—I believe it got up to 3.5 points but was down to only 2.5 points at game time. I have enjoyed those kinds of games when I don’t feel any attachment to one of the teams. But as I explained in the blog when I visited Notre Dame, I have an affinity for them. And so I wore a white Notre Dame shirt and hat for this game.

There was a Fan Fest going on in the field next to the stadium, but it was rather lame. Lots of beer tents, especially for 10:00 AM. A few merchandise tents, but all overpriced. I did buy a lapel pin, which is my tradition for bowl games (except for the Sugar Bowl last year—they ran out before I could find one), but that was the extent of my Camping World Bowl swag purchases. Elsewhere in the Fan Fest, they had the typical giveaways, but it was all non-team-specific, which was disappointing. Frankly, everything I saw was also non-bowl-specific, and really what’s the point of that? But they did have a direct gate into the stadium from the Fan Fest, and it opened just after 10:00. Not long after that, I went inside, where my mobile ticket worked just fine.

The Camping World Bowl is just one in a long line of iterations of this game with different names. It has only been called the Camping World Bowl since 2017. The stadium is also home to the Citrus Bowl (another bowl game with a history of different names), which is a much more prestigious event held usually on New Year’s Day. This year, that matchup is Michigan and Alabama, and the announcers were pushing that game on us hard. No thanks, I have other plans for New Year’s Day.

I did attend the Citrus Bowl at the end of the 2012 season (known as the Capital One Bowl back then), and it looked different to me than it did seven years ago. Not sure why. But I was severely disappointed in the food options and the utter lack of a souvenir cup. Alas. I ultimately settled on eating at Johnny Rockets, because I don’t know any other stadiums that have that. But it was pricey—a shoddy burger with fries and 20 oz. Pepsi (yuck!) set me back $20.50. I was done for the day, at least as far as spending money went.

After I ate, I settled into the section beside the Notre Dame band. They were a fun bunch, with their uniforms and shiny horns. It was a bit chaotic getting them all in there, but every once in a while, as they were walking up the stairs to get to their appropriate row, one of them would meet eyes with me and say simply, “Go Irish.” And I would smile and repeat it to them. About forty-five minutes before kickoff, the percussion section went to the lowest level underneath us and gave a show for all the fans entering the stadium. It was quite entertaining. I don’t remember ever seeing people marching with keyboards attached to straps around their necks, but this band has them. The fans were congregated around them when I approached, and everyone was having a good time. Even some other band members walked up behind us and started dancing to the music. Fun times.

For most of the afternoon, the sky was really overcast. A few times, the clouds unburdened themselves, but only once did it become intense enough to make people put on raincoats or head for shelter. My seat was in the section behind the band, with no overhang, so when it rained, I got wet. Nothing too bad at all, frankly. I didn’t bring any raincoat or poncho, and I was fine. But it’s the most rain I’ve had at a game all season.

Before the game, we had a couple of Pop Warner mini “games” at each end zone to entertain us, and then there was a parachute drop, feature three guys: the first had an American flag, the second Notre Dame, and the last one Iowa State. It was fun to watch.

And what of the game? Well, it just wasn’t Iowa State’s day, and Notre Dame made them pay. The Irish got the ball to start, but it went nowhere. On the punt, the Iowa State dude fumbled it, and Notre Dame recovered it and went down to score a field goal. On Iowa State’s ensuing drive, they looked like they might be making some progress when they fumbled it again after two minutes. Nine plays later, Notre Dame was in the end zone, enjoying a 10-0 lead and taking that score into the second quarter. Iowa State finally got on the board in the second quarter, trading field goals with the Irish before turning it over on downs when they went for it on 4th-and-1 but got stuffed at the line. Then Notre Dame scored a quick TD in the short field. Iowa State’s next drive got them into the red zone for the first time all day, but they were forced to settle for another field goal. The halftime score was then 20-6.

In the second half, Iowa State managed to make several big plays, but they simply couldn’t convert when they needed to. They were not a clutch team at all. Their first possession was a three-and-out, and Notre Dame scored a touchdown on the kickoff return, extending the lead to twenty-one points. Then the teams exchanged punts before exchanging field goals again. Those were the only points Iowa State would score in the half. Both of those field-goal drives saw great pass plays from each team, but they also saw some terrible rushing plays with short yardage when it counted. It was a mystery to most of the people around me why both teams didn’t open up the air attack, since they were both doing so well with that part of the offense. But they didn’t. At the start of the 4th quarter, the score was 30-9, and Iowa State was getting desperate. With nine minutes left in the game, they again went for it on 4th-and-1, and the Irish defense sacked the Iowa State QB for a huge loss to take over on downs. At this point, I moved down to the lower section to be closer to the band. My original section wasn’t bad, but I was seated at the end of the row, and I was tired of having to stand up every time someone wanted to go to the bathroom or the concession stand.

But at this point, the game was already over. Notre Dame slowly drove the ball down the field to eat up the clock. Nine plays and five minutes later, they kicked another field goal to take a twenty-four point lead. Iowa State didn’t have anything left. Another three-and-out, another punt, and Notre Dame kept the ball on the ground for the final two minutes to seal the win. Final Score: 33-9.

The red side of the stadium, what was left of them, cleared out pretty quickly. I was surprised to see so many Notre Dame people still there, honestly. But they were waiting for the team to come over to the band so they could all sing the alma mater together. First, however, there was a post-game presentation of the MVP and winner’s trophies. It wasn’t all that exciting, but they did release a lot of blue and gold confetti into the air. It wasn’t as much confetti as the Sun Belt Championship game at App State, but people still cheered. And after all that, the team came over and put their arms around each other’s shoulders and swayed as the band played the song. And after that, the team and the fans dispersed.

I felt bad for the Iowa State people, driving all this way to watch their team lay a big egg. But at least they didn’t have to pay so much for the experience. I’m looking at you, UGA.

And finally, I must say that I picked the perfect parking spot. Not only was it cheaper than other lots, but the exit was virtually right onto the on-ramp for the toll road heading north. And I was glad to be heading north after the game. The traffic on the southbound side of the Turnpike and I-75 looked just terrible, for miles at a time. I don’t want to know what kind of delays those people had to sit through. As for me, I made it back in 3.5 hours, just in time to watch LSU finish its demolition of Oklahoma, as expected.

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