The Hawkeyes’ Spirit Squad and Herky show off their skills for throngs of Iowa fans at Outback Bowl Beach Day Dec. 30 at Clearwater Beach.
CLEARWATER – The University of Iowa Hawkeyes may have vastly outnumbered the Louisiana State University Tigers fans at the Outback Bowl Beach Day in Clearwater on Dec. 30, but that didn’t keep the Tigers from toppling the Hawkeyes 21-14 at the game on New Year’s Day.
The Outback Bowl pits the third-ranked teams of the Big Ten and the SEC against each other, but fans and team members enjoy several days of activities, fun and tailgating leading up to the big game. This year, those events included a Busch Gardens team outing, a players’ hospital visit at Tampa General, a players’ night at Splitsville in Channelside for both players and fans, Battle of the Bands, a New Year’s Eve gala, and of course, Beach Day on Clearwater Beach.
The fact that they were outnumbered didn’t bother hardcore LSU fans. Mona Kelly, originally of Thibodaux, La., and now a Clearwater resident still proudly boasts her Louisiana drawl and has been an LSU fan all her life.
“I was born a fan. Even while still in my mama’s womb. We’re the tigers. The mighty, mighty tigers,” Kelly said, the accent coming through as mah-ty tah-gers. “Forty-seven years I’ve been a fan. I would walk on coals for my team.”
Kelly has been to more than 20 bowl games throughout the years, and she says there’s nothing like them. She loves the opportunity for the fans to express their gratitude and thank their team for a good year. In her mind, she had no doubt that her team was going to win.
“Geaux Tigers,” she said, making sure it was spelled in Louisiana fashion.
Josh Bellcock and his son, Brooks, 8, are Hawkeyes fans from Sac City, Iowa. They were enjoying playing a giant game of chess together, with game pieces half the size of Brooks. They were loving the beach and the Florida weather. They had left the day before, where there was a high of negative 2 degrees at home and it was negative 10 in Minneapolis, where they flew out of.
“So this feels pretty good,” Josh said.
The family was loving their stay at the Sandpearl Resort and said Clearwater is a lovely place and that they would like to come back someday for another vacation, even when their team isn’t in town.
The Morton family of five from Lafayette, La., took the Outback Bowl as an opportunity for a holiday vacation. They arrived on Dec. 27 and were staying a week. In addition to Beach Day, they had already visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to visit Winter the dolphin, checked out Ybor City, headed to the Museum of Science and Industry, seen a Tampa Bay Lightning Game and still had plans to see the Bowl parade, New Year’s fireworks and Busch Gardens in addition to the game. They loved all that the Tampa Bay area has to offer and said they would like to come back again in the future.
“(The kids have) never been to a Bowl game, and we’ve never been to a Bowl game as a family, it wasn’t that far to drive and we had never been to Tampa,” Chris Morton said. “We like to take the kids to new areas and unique cities.
Chris was there with his wife, Jennifer, and their kids, Nicholas, 16; Caroline, 13; and Christopher, 10.
Some of the longest-running Iowa fans are Bob and Betty Washam of Bettendorf, Iowa. Both nearly 77 years old, they have been to a number of Bowl games.
“Iowa has the best following,” Bob said. “The games, the tailgating, everything is so much fun. You get caught up in it.”
They also proved that you don’t have to be Hawkeye grads to be lifelong fans.
“We’re just diehard Hawkeye fans,” Bob said. “And we (make the trip) every time there’s a Bowl game. Especially here. We love it here.”
In fact, they love the area so much that they plan on living here year-round in the future.
Most of the Iowa fans had traveled quite a way to see the game, but Molly Williams, a Hawkeyes 2000 grad, may have traveled the farthest. Now living in Wicklow, Ireland, she was in town visiting family and got the added bonus of getting to support her alma mater.
Beach Day provided plenty of entertainment, from a chance to pose in front of a giant sand sculpture of the Outback Bowl and both teams’ logos, entertainment from both schools’ marching bands, cheerleading and dance teams, a cheerleader tug-of-war competition, live music, a trivia contest and appearances by both coaches. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos thanked both of the coaches for visiting the city and for being a good example for football coaches throughout the country.