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The Last Game at the Orange Bowl

November 19, 2007 By Matt Meltzer in

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As Suzy told you last week, my sometimes beloved Hurricanes played their last game at my favorite of all sports stadiums, the Orange Bowl.  I learned a lot from Suzy’s article, and found her tribute to the old place to be both educational and entertaining. But Suzy didn’t really talk too much about the last game itself. And I’m not talking about what the 22 guys on the grass field did, you could barely even call that a football game. No, no, I am talking about what the students, alumni, fans, and people who didn’t even go to UM did. Because, like the T-Shirt said, “We may not have won ‘em all, but we never lost a party.” And if the Canes were going to stink up the Orange Bowl worse than the Miami River, we fans were at least going to give the old bitch a proper send off.

A HATEFUL, SPITEFUL PLACE

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There are few stadiums left in sports that truly personify their home cities. Yankee Stadium is tall, intimidating, expensive and cramped. Wrigley Field is welcoming, cheerful, beer-soaked and homey. The OB? The OB is dirty, hot, hateful, spiteful, lawless, rowdy and completely falling apart. And that, friends, is why I love the place. No single icon in Dade County better represents what this place is than the Orange Bowl. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Honestly, I do.

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But to those of us whose college football memories involved negotiating for parking spaces in Spanish and eating Rat on a Stick from a Cuban street vendor, this was a sad time indeed. I had not felt a buzz like this for a home game since the season opener against FSU last year, and even then it wasn’t quite as intense. As I drove from Fort Lauderdale airport to a friend’s house to pickup tailgate supplies, I heard Pedro from Kendall calling into a local radio station.

“Yeah, Bro. He and my brother are here getting ready for the game,” he told the host. “We started drinking already. We got beers. We got hot dogs. We got everything bro. Go CANES!” It was, I should add, about 10 a.m.

PARTYING ON TOP OF EACH OTHER

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The student lot at the Orange Bowl is roughly half the size of your average parking lot at Walgreens. This is fine for a noon game against Rutgers, but for big games it’s kind of like going to the hottest club in South Beach on New Year’s Eve. Lots of hot girls from out-of-town wearing next to nothing, getting drunker than they reasonably should, and having nowhere to move.

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The student lot during big games is a sardine tin of sweaty students splashing beer on each other and screaming at the tops of their lungs. People pile on top of people and drink for 5, 6, 7, or even 8 hours as music blares in the background and games of beer pong and flip cup dominate the grass. A bush in the west half of the lot acts as a makeshift men’s room every week, and I always wonder if the landlord tells whoever rents that place that from August through November the entire side of their apartment is going to smell like urine. I’m guessing not.

After parking my car in a legal free space east of the stadium (living in Little Havana did give me some stellar inside information on parking) my friends and I made our way over to the student lot and, almost 6 hours before kickoff, it was already packed. Drunk students were already stumbling through the canyons created by already-parked SUV’s, as half naked coeds waved from the beds of pickup trucks out of necessity for space. People were coming around with beer bongs, offering up a free hit like a hippie at Woodstock. Not even 3 and the party was in full swing.

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I arrived at our tailgate and our captain was already doing a keg stand. I started by taking some Jack to the head, a proper way to start any UM tailgate, then proceeded to play about an hour’s worth of Flip-Cup before downing my first Bubba Burger.

Unlike during so many UM tailgates, nobody got into a fight. After all, this was probably the first big game where nobody really cared if we won or lost, we were just there to have a good time. Of course, if they won, it definitely would be a better time.

“HERE TO GET SOME MEMEROBILIA”

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Throughout the afternoon, people I hadn’t seen since I graduated college stopped by to say hello. Not to me, necessarily, but to any of the collected mass that was the student lot. Fraternity brothers, ex-girlfriends who I may or may not have drunkenly started joking with about inappropriate things while I unknowingly stood next to their new boyfriends. I ran into a bartender I used to work with who I knew hadn’t gone to the school, or even lived in Miami for more than a few years.

“What you doing here?” I asked him.

“Just came to get some memorabilia,” he told me. And with that, he took another puff from his joint.

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Ever since UM announced it was leaving the OB, people like me and my friends had been planning how we would celebrate the last game. One friend decided to steal his seat the game before. Another took a picture of the bolts that held the seats so he could go to Home Depot and get the right Allen Wrench. And EVERYONE was going to go down and get a piece of the turf.

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Of course, Donna Shalala sent out numerous emails to alumni, students, and anyone else who would listen, pleading with them not to take “mementos.” And news stories and news broadcasts promised arrests for anyone caught vandalizing the stadium or rushing the field. But Donna, who is relatively new to the area, failed to realize that the game was not in Coral Gables. It was in Little F*%&ing Havana. And in Little Havana, if you don’t like a rule you just don’t follow it. And you assume so many other people are breaking that same rule that police won’t really bother arresting you because, if for no other reason, it’s a lot of goddam paperwork. And most of the time you are right.

TICKETS? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ TICKETS!

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After five solid hours of domestic light beer and domestic not-so-light beef, we headed inside the Orange Bowl, lit up in all her glory for the last time. We walked in with our General Admission tickets and showed 5-year-old student ID cards to get bracelets to sit in the student section for the last time.  We hurried past the overwhelmed Event Staff workers with pockets full of beer cans and Johnny Black for the last time. We showed ID’s (although now they were real) to get bracelets so we could buy beer inside for the last time. And we went and sat among all the other drunken college kids (although I was the only one actually enrolled in ANY school) for the last time. But we were not there long.

Apparently the university, after lord-knows-how-many years of open seating in the student section, decided that the last game the team would play in the Orange Bowl would be a good time to start handing out physical tickets. The reasoning, I guess, was that if students weren’t going to fill the section (as they didn’t 95% of the time) the school could easily sell the rest to guys like my bartender friend, who figured $50 was a small price to pay for a chunk of the OB.

So about 5 minutes into the first quarter, as Miami got themselves into the expected early hole, two guys show up and actually kick me and my group of about 10 friends out of their seats. The nerve! Never in the history of the student section has ANYONE been asked to leave for anything less than inflicting a stab wound. Perhaps they were getting us ready for next year’s more-structured environment at Dolphin Stadium. A structured environment that includes hard liquor.

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We politely informed these gentlemen that there was a better chance of Larry Coker being rehired than us moving, and with that they brought down a cheerful and polite City of Miami police officer. We left before he even opened his mouth. If I was going to get arrested at this game, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be for sitting in the wrong seat.

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So our earlier plan to rush the field was foiled as we were relegated to the upper deck. A place I had sat all of once in 7 seasons. It was a shame, as I was the only one among my group who had gotten to rush the field in 1998, and many figured this to be their last chance. That’s the thing when you are a perennial powerhouse; you rarely upset anyone so you never get to tear down goalposts. But it was not to be. Despite the constant reminder from the PA announcer that “There are 300 City of Miami Police Officers in attendance,” everyone was planning to rush the field anyway.

But as we were relegated to the upper reaches of the Orange Bowl, we knew this would not be possible unless UM continued to lose and people left.

CLICHÉ OR COOL: COKE IN THE OB BATHROOMS

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The gallons of Bud Light I had downed were finally starting to catch up to me, so I decided to take a stroll down to the men’s room for a little relief. The OB used to feature that grandest of stadium invention, the men’s room piss trough. But when the stadium underwent its $45 million dollar renovation a few years back, they chose to ignore the rusting support beams and instead give us guys all individual urinals. Because people had actually decided to attend this game, the men’s room had a line. Again, something I was totally unaccustomed to.

I got up to be fourth in line and a urinal opened up. But nobody in front of me moved. I looked at the three guys in front of me and said, “Hey, it’s open.”

One looked back and said “You go ahead. We’re waiting for the shitter.”

“The shitter?” I laughed. “Oh, okay. You guys have fun.” With that I made my way over to the urinal (which, through a chain link fence, actually has a view of the field) and began my business.

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As I was doing said business, lo and behold the shitter opened up and all 3 guys went inside. Given that none of these guys looked like members of congress, I pretty much knew what they were up to. Being the veteran of South Beach nightlifer that I am, I know that multiple people in one bathroom stall can only mean one thing, and it rhymes with “schmokaine.”

I walked past the stall and heard the following exchange:

“Hey, lemme get that key!” Sniff.

“Yeah, here, take it.” Sniff!

“Ah, that’s good.”

“Yeah, I got it off this guy I know like two blocks from here.”

“Hey, lemme get it!” Sniff!

“You got this around here?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

“Man, then you know it’s shitty.”

Lest anyone think I was hanging around to try and get a free bump or, even worse, a second quarter tryst, I made my way out of the bathroom before they made it out of the stall. And no I did not wash my hands. I don’t know where those soap dispensers have been.

THE CANES SPOIL THE PARTY

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It is not every day a 5-4 team gets a rowdy, packed house ready to explode at any moment. At least, not in Miami. So if the Hurricanes could have even made the game mildly close, it would have been as intense as a late-season game against a real conference rival. However,  to honor the stadium that gave them 58 straight home victories and above-average fan support, the ‘Canes decided to not score a single point and to let Virginia score a lot more than 0. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, anyone who was sober enough to drive was leaving. Which left roughly 50,000 people still inside.

My friend’s parents, who came all the way from Virginia Beach for the game, came up and met us as they figured watching from good seats was pretty pointless by now.

“Hey, there’s a bunch of guys fighting in our section, so we left,” the dad said.

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Yeah,” another friend told them. “That’s pretty much what goes on here. I don’t think I’ve ever been to
a game where there wasn’t a fight.”

“At Virginia they wear suits to games,” dad said.

“Yeah, well, this is the Orange Bowl,” my friend told them, “We wear holsters.”

SEAT STEALERS

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By the end of the game, which came around the point Virginia got up 35-0, people began to start pulling up seats. The upper level was apparently too much of a climb for the Miami police, so left and right you saw people snapping the plastic seats from their metal braces in the stands. People stuffed them in their shirts, down their pants, and anywhere else they figured they could store it. But, really, very few people can effectively hide a two-foot section of plastic anywhere.

Me and two of my friends decided we’d grab our seats on the way out, and made the bright decision to steal some student-section plastic since that was where we’d spent most of our time. I stood guard in the third-to-last row in my Colt Brennan jersey as I heard snap after audible snap behind me. Other fans saw what we were doing. Did they stop us? Come on, have you been reading this story? Within minutes a 10-year-old was grabbing one of his own with his father’s encouragement.

My guarding worked and after what had now been 10 hours of drinking we decided we could easily sneak these things out if we stuffed them in our shirts. You can imagine the conspicuousness of three guys with giant humps and completely flat backs all walking out of the stadium together as if nothing were going on.

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We began to walk out and did not make it 30 feet out of the tunnel when a man in a yellow shirt accosted us.

“Lift up your shirts,’ he said. Damn. This was it. We were spending the night in DCJ for a stupid plastic chair. We obliged and the guy just shook his head.

“Damn,” he said, “Y’all think you’re slick? EVERYBODY tryin’ this shit.” And with that he grabbed our seats, stacked them in his arms, and walked off. As we looked around, we saw four or five more of these yellow shirted folks, all with armloads of seats. Nobody was being arrested, and the underpaid security staff now had a way to supplement their income on eBay.

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We stumbled out the gates, being asked twice more to lift up our shirts in case we had some seats they hadn’t caught. I looked back at the OB one last time, that historic icon of Miami sports was still all lit up, but it was for her final hurrah. I made it back to my car on 12th Ave and a cop was parked right behind me.

“Shit,” I said. “I guess we should wait a while before we get in the car.”

“You’ve been gone too long,” my friend said. “As long as you walk straight and don’t have a gun, we’re fine. I mean, shit, like everyone else here isn’t driving home drunk too.”

And with that I got my keys, unlocked my rented Focus, and left my last football game in Little Havana a free man. 

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About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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