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One of the benefits of living in Florida is being close to where many of the best college bowls are. So, as a surprise for my 21st birthday, my mom got us tickets to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. It was BC versus Michigan State, and as a lifelong BC fan, you can imagine how undeniably stoked I was. Here's some highlights...
- After a 3-and-a-1/2 hour drive to Orlando on Thursday, we spent the afternoon with my mom's friends at the most ridiculous-looking hotel I've ever seen, the Marriot World Center Orlando. We hung out at the pool, and as we were passing through the hotel to get ready for the evening's festivities, we walked by a bunch of very large men decked out in BC attire; I assumed they were players, as they were staying at the same hotel. Apparently my eyes lit up like a 6-year-old's eyes at the Magic Kingdom.
As for gameday on Friday...
- There's something awesomely awkward about going to see a football game in December, in a stadium surrounded by palm trees, with the temperature hovering around 80 degrees all night long, and the sun shining brightly. I'm used to the wind tearing your face off, snuggling in a blanket, sipping hot chocolate and eating clam chowder. None of that today. Everything's different, but in a very good way.
- The Michigan State Spartan Band...absolutely fantastic. A massive, synchonized, spirited, loud group that did not stop playing for 10 seconds throughout the game. Before the game, they formed a giant S and moved flawlessly across the field. Very impressive.
- Fireworks galore...although I was a little miffed the Spartans had a significantly higher amount of pyrotechnics than BC did. Oh well, who needs fireworks when Matt Ryan's your quarterback?
- An absolutely genius concept...On the jumbotron, a ticker ran across the bottom of the screen, telling the crowd to send text messages to be scrolled along the bottom of the screen. Some of the gems...
"Go back to Michigan and learn how to drive!"
"How much did MSU pay the refs?"
"Jamie Silva, will you marry me?"
"Pats rule the school"
"Will you marry me?"
- We had great seats...my mom's friends that we met in Orlando are good friends with the athletic director, so they hooked us up. We were about 13 rows up on the 20 yard line. We sat with some of the players' families...wide receiver Brandon Robinson, linebackers Jolonn Dunbar and Mark Herzlich, and guard Ty Hall all had jerseys speckled throughout our section.
- There was a little kid sitting in front of us in the classic BC Superfan t-shirt and a Batman logo painted on his face. He had to be pretty young, no older than 7. Instead of watching the game, he watched "Homeward Bound" on a portable DVD player. He missed one heck of a game.
- So yeah, the game...not a good start. State gets a good kickoff return, scores, then forces a 3-and-out by the Eagles.
- Matty Ice and the offense looked out of sync most of the night. Ryan missed a couple of guys, dropped passes, and no semblance of a running game.
- And the defense went into bend-don't-break mode. The nation's best run defense looked mediocre most of the night trying to stop Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick, who ran for 160 yards combined. Missed tackles abound, but...
- They forced five turnovers...4 interceptions of Brian Hoyer (2 by Jamie Silva, I'll get to him in a minute) and a fumble recovery. Hoyer averaged 3.6 yards per attempt. Ouch for him, yay for the defense.
- Although Ryan looked a little off for most of the night, he was able to make big plays. Two touchdown passes to Rich Gunnell, one for 29 yards and one for 68 yards (Gunnell caught it right in front of us), were just enough for the Eagles to hang on.
- For those of you not familiar with the MVP, James J. Silva, get familiar. The free safety with the greatest head of hair in college football was named a First Team All-American by the AP and Walter Camp Foundation. He hits like a Mack truck. He has a nose for the football. When there were a bunch of injuries this year, he returned punts. A safety, returning punts. It was an adventure just hoping he would catch the punt, and once he had it, he didn't go that far, but he made sure he knocked the snot out of anyone in his way. That's a football player. He should be a late-round draft pick.
- If you've ever seen a BC game on tv, you may have seen the father of Ty Hall. He has the massive structure he calls a hat on his head every game, constructed of Eagle statues and other BC paraphenalia. I got to see him in the flesh. Probably not that big of a deal, but it was to see the mythical man under the giant headgear.
- Steve Aponavicius, the placekicker, had an adventurous year, to say the least. He made only 12 of 18 field goals, and missed 2 extra points. He was one of the goats in the ACC Championship, getting an extra point blocked and returned for a safety and had a blocked field goal. Coach Jeff Jagodzinski had the Eagles to go for it on fourth down inside the 30 many times this season because of the walk-on's inefficiency. But he was perfect on this night, a field goal and three extra points. Good for him.
- WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT! Champs Sports Bowl Champs! I ran down the steps to get as close to the field as possible to take pictures, and ended up standing behind Jolonn Dunbar's family (I believe it was his mother and aunt). A guy standing next to us made the point of saying Jolonn was a bad ass on the field. To which Jolonn's mother replied, "Daaaaaaamn, sometimes he's too nice on the field! I tell him you gotta let some of the niceness go when you play!"
So my mom and I got our championship t-shirts and headed back to the hotel.
The whole thing was bittersweet. As awesome as it was to see BC win their 8th straight bowl game, 2007 could have been so much more. After an 8-0 start and a scintillating win over Virginia Tech, they proceeded to lose two straight to unranked Florida State and Maryland. They won a big game against Clemson to get into the ACC Championship game, but then lost to the Hokies. A shot at the Orange Bowl and the BCS went down the drain. They were so close, yet so far.
None of the 8 bowl games in the streak are BCS games. 2007 was their best chance to break out. For a while, it was shaping up to be the best season in school history. But down the stretch, they couldn't seal the deal. 2008 and beyond will be a rebuilding process, with Ryan, Silva, Dunbar and a bevy of other seniors on the way out. But 2007 was a great season, the best I can remember, and one that I'll never forget.