The St. Petersburg Bowl kicked off in Tampa Bay’s house of baseball in the wee hours of Monday morning, forcing college football tailgates to begin at 8:30 a.m. Most college students don’t realize that there even is an 8:30 a.m., but sucked it up and dealt with the early-morning kickoff with traditional morning beers.
The day ended in a hair-splitting 17-16 victory for Mississippi State after they blocked a last-second field goal attempt from Miami, holding on to a 17-16 lead, but the biggest surprise occurred after the game when Mississippi coach Dan Mullen praised the likes of our humble Tropicana Field.
“I’ll be honest with you, the facility was fantastic,” Mullen said after the win. “I thought the stadium was really kind of cool to play in. Everything about felt different, and fun like a bowl game … We had a great time. We loved it.”
Maybe Coach Mullen was joining the early morning tailgates. The game was broadcasted nationally on ESPN, making the turf subject of many jabs on Twitter. TV viewers made light of how the field looked “wet”. That “wetness” turns out to be an uneven distribution of black turf rubbers scattered over the field.
“I didn’t notice it had much effect on the game,” Mullen said.
The two teams featured in the opening college bowl game were Mississippi State (5-7) and Miami (no, not the U, but the one from Ohio) with a record of 6-6, after starting the season off with six straight losses.
Several Miami (Ohio) fans were overheard repeatedly referring to St. Petersburg as “Tampa”. Guess the St. Petersburg Bowl didn’t give them a big enough hint as to the city. News flash for Miami fans, there isn’t even a Miami in Ohio. But don’t tell them that: They’ll lecture you on how their school is older than the city of Miami, Florida and lies in the Miami Valley of Ohio, and is surrounded by the Great Miami River.
The irony didn’t stop at with the geographically challenged, but only grew when you thought about the game’s venue.
The slogan of this year’s St. Petersburg Bowl was “from the shorelines to the sidelines," appealing to those who fled the frozen north to come watch the game, sure, but playing the game under a dome doesn’t seem to follow the mantra.
It was 58 degrees and raining in Oxford, Ohio, where Miami is located and it was 67 degrees and cloudy in Mississippi State’s Oktibbeha County. In St. Petersburg? It was 80 and sunny, but you can’t tell through the London fog-gray of the Trop’s ceiling.
Despite the indoor game play, both teams took advantage of the record-breaking heat that led up to Christmas day and enjoyed several outdoor practices.
Both sides arrived in time for Player’s Day on December 23, and spent the day at Busch Gardens. They celebrated Christmas Eve at the Madeira Beach Bash, competing in a belly flop contest. Miami’s starting right guard Sam McCollum took first place. Miami coach Chuck Martin knew McCollum would fare well in the competition as he said “he’s goofy enough to volunteer himself” in an earlier press conference, and at six-foot-three and over 300 pounds, there was plenty of belly to use in the flop.
Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s legend Mike Alstott was on hand as the honorary bowl chairman. He held the high responsibility of the pre-game coin flip, which as we all know, is what really determines the winners and losers.
Alstott had more important matters to attend earlier in the week. According to Alsott, the St. Pete Bowl is about more than just football. Alstott and his foundation keep a tradition of bringing players and visiting All Children’s Hospital during the St. Pete Bowl week.
“Just seeing those kids, even for a minute makes all the difference,” Alstott said.
See? It's not just football. It was about the kids all along.