Fans, let's do this again soon!
Alumni braved road and rain to see the Bobcats play a bowl game
By Joe Donatelli
MOBILE, Ala. -- When the weather service issued a tornado watch just hours before game time, we ignored it.
Ohio University was playing in a bowl game.
When monsoon-like rain fell as we tailgated outside Ladd-Peebles Stadium, we ignored it.
For the first time since 1968, the Bobcats were playing in a bowl game.
When Southern Mississippi University took a 28-0 lead in the third quarter, we ignored that, too.
Ohio "0-11 in 1994" University was playing for its first bowl win.
As a sports fan, you never want to say you're just happy to be there. But when your team hasn't played in a bowl game since Archie Bell and the Drells had a hit song -- "Tighten' Up," if you don't remember -- you can't help it. You are just happy to be there.
Eight of my friends from the class of 1998 traveled from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Florida for the GMAC Bowl, joining Bobcat fans, students, alumni and family of all ages who also made the journey to Alabama's Gulf Coast.
Although we were seriously outnumbered by Southern Miss fans, Bobcats in green and white were visible in the restaurants, bars and shops on Dauphin Street, which is Mobile's version of Court Street, rendered inferior only by its glaring lack of a Burrito Buggy.
Many Ohio fans adopted a local favorite called Wintzell's Oyster House, a great Southern restaurant where they'd deep-fry your napkin if you asked nicely enough. The staff had met so many Bobcat fans during the week that by Sunday afternoon, the waiters performed the O-H-I-O chant without prompting.
Locals went out of their way to welcome Ohio fans.
When the game was announced, a man with the handle "MobileBama" began posting often on www.bobcatattack.com, pointing Bobcat fans to Mobile's best restaurants and bars. "MobileBama" -- legend has it his name is Tom -- isn't an Ohio grad. As he told a friend, "I'm proud of my city, and I want to tell people about it." Apparently several Ohio fans responded by mailing him Bobcat gear and inviting him to university events.
A couple more examples of Southern hospitality:
- My friend Ron left his credit card at Wintzell's. Our waiter ran into the street to return it to him. When do you ever see that?
- When my friend Pat had no choice but to give a shuttle bus driver a $10 bill for a $5 trip, the driver said he would leave Pat change at our hotel desk the next morning. Sure enough, he did.
The weather on game day was a muddy mess, complete with a tornado watch and torrential rain. But that didn't stop us from grilling enough Italian sausage to incapacitate a small Chicago suburb. Southern Miss fans, blessed with home field advantage, brought recreational vehicles, propane grills, smokers and satellite TV.
You have to respect that.
I'm told ESPN did a poor job showing any action away from the field, which is surprising, because you'd think they'd have been all over the 38-years-between-bowl-games angle.
If you watched the game on TV, here is what you missed:
- A small but vocal group of students cheered the team on in the south end zone.
- The Marching 110 brought down the house with "Sweet Home Alabama" at halftime. Fans cheered the band in the parking lot after the game.
- In spite of the fact that the team was never in the game past the second quarter, most of the Ohio section remained until the end of the game.
The one area Bobcat fans could improve on is signage. Not many signs were visible from our vantage point inside the stadium. Although one fan did raise a sign that said, "Let's Party Like It's 1968."
- I'm not exactly sure what this says about Bobcat fans, but they ran out of hot dogs on the Ohio side of the stadium during the third quarter.
That's all well and good, and you have to admire the spirit, but we lost that game, too.
Joe Donatelli is a 1998 graduate of the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism. The first Bobcat football game he attended was a 5-0 loss to Utah State. Yes, 5-0. Yes, Utah State.