CLEARWATER, Fla. – Finally, Iowa and Louisiana State enjoyed their moment in the sun Monday at the Outback Bowl’s annual Clearwater Beach Day.
Early-day clouds and a chilly breeze kept people bundled up in the morning but the skies cleared and sun warmed the white sands along the Gulf of Mexico around midday, giving football fans, bands, cheerleaders and eventually teams the chance to enjoy a little fun in the sand.
An estimated crowd of 6,000 filled the beach and mirroring ticket sales to Wednesday’s noon game at Raymond James Stadium in nearby Tampa, Hawkeye fans had supporters of the Bayou Bengals easily outnumbered.
One group of Iowa fans said they were taking a DEFF approach to the entire getaway from frigid Midwestern temperatures, explaining that DEFF stood for “drinking, eating, fun and football.’’
Live music, skydivers, a tug-of-war between cheerleaders from both schools, a pie-eating contest and performances by both the Hawkeye Marching Band the LSU Marching Tigers entertained fans who weren’t busy tossing football and flying discs around on the beach or testing the feel of the gulf waters.
“It’s a great getaway,’’ Iowa fan Steve Regan of Durant, Iowa, said. “There’s six of us here and we’re enjoying the weather, having some fun and not missing the minus-two temperatures back home at all.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz addressed fans briefly as Hawkeye players enjoyed a lunch before taking a quick walk around the beach.
He thanked fans for following the team to its 11th bowl game in the last 13 years, adding, “Our guys have been working hard to make you proud.’’
Muscatine native Doug Smaus, the president of the 3,000-member Tampa Bay Iowa Club, greeted fans and encouraged Tampa-area residents to participate in the club’s 48 annual events which has helped the group endow a scholarship awarded each year to a Tampa-area youth to attend Iowa.
“I’ve been down here for 28 years now, working initially for HON in its Florida operations, and we’d like to see the Hawkeyes here every year,’’ Smaus said. “A lot of us are a ways from home, but we’re still Hawkeyes.’’
Arnie Kempf, who traveled to Florida with Regan’s group, enjoys season tickets in Section 213 at Kinnick Stadium but welcomes a quick getaway when the Hawkeyes have a successful season.
“It’s four days of fun and being around a lot of good people,’’ Kempf said. “We’re here today, we’re going to Ybor City (a historic district of former cigar manufacturing plants now filled with nightspots and shops in Tampa) and seeing the sites. It’s just like the folks I sit around in the south end zone at Kinnick, we’re here to have fun.’’
So were several Quad-City area snowbirds who winter in Florida but had only a short drive to find some Hawkeye spirit close to their winter homes.
Joyce Keegan and Alan McDermott, both of Bettendorf, Arden Zentic and Gloria Zentic of Milan and Bob and Mary Lou Ries of Rock Island were among those soaking up the atmosphere Monday.
“It’s great to have the Hawkeyes come to us,’’ said Keegan, an Iowa season ticket holder. “I wish it was a little warmer for people – it’s been a warm start to the winter here – but not so much today.’’
The six all work together on volunteer committees for the Quad-City Times Bix 7 and Mary Lou Ries admitted she felt a little out of place.
“I’m actually an Illinois fan but I figured if I ever wanted to see a bowl game in warm weather, I was going to have to come to this one and watch Iowa play,’’ she said. “They’re trying to convert me and with these guys, I know I’ll have fun.’’