Four skydivers landed onto the field, No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma ran out through flame and fireworks, prevalent Capital One signage made it abundantly clear what the sponsor for all of it was and the Orange Bowl – a College Football Playoff semifinal this season – was underway.
Before the 67,615 in attendance charged into Sun Life Stadium – those supporting Oklahoma chanting “Boomer Sooner” and Clemson fans doing their spellout of “Clemson Tigers” – they enjoyed the four-hour Fan Fest in the south parking lot headlined by “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips. At halftime, it was rock legend John Fogerty providing the entertainment.
The presumption that it would be a Clemson-heavy crowd was proven correct when fans took their seats as the Tiger orange outnumbered Sooner crimson by about a 4-to-1 ratio at the rarely-seen-full stadium in Miami Gardens.
One Oklahoma fan, possibly under the influence of a few drinks at the tailgate, yelled at a slew of Tigers in line to enter at the gate, “There’s a lot of [expletive] orange here, and I like it!”
It was ironically a sharp contrast of the last time the college football team that plays its home games in Sun Life won a national championship – the Rose Bowl following the 2001 season when Nebraska’s scarlet outdid UM’s orange significantly as the Hurricanes won their fifth national championship.
Fans on both sides voiced their excitement and confidence in the pregame.
“This is the best game of the bowl season – Oklahoma-Clemson,” said Clemson graduate from New York, Josh Osborn. “High-scoring game, amazing quarterbacks. You can’t miss this game. Alabama-Michigan State – no one wants to see that.”
Kyle Roosen, another Clemson grad but from Jacksonville, expressed the backing of his prediction, proven correct in a XX-XX Clemson win.
“We’re the No. 1 team in the country, playing against a team that lost to Texas. We beat everybody that we could play,” Roosen said.
Oklahoma fan Brent Learned predictably went the other way with his pick. His line of thinking: Baylor, which Oklahoma beat in Big 12 play in the regular season, handled North Carolina 49-38 in the Russell Athletic Bowl while UNC gave Clemson a good game in the ACC Championship.
“Same thing that Baylor did to North Carolina, OU’s going to do to Clemson,” Learned said.
Learned, an artist of Native American motif in Oklahoma City who attended Kansas but describes himself as “an OU fan by heart,” was buying tickets to the Orange Bowl regardless of the teams involved as he’s been to multiple previous matchups – ironically none of the Sooners BCS National Championship trips to South Florida in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
When he found out his Sooners would be in the game?
“It was a bonus,” he said.
One fan bravely wore a Texas Longhorns jersey to the Orange Bowl to watch their rival Sooners play. The oddity in that: He had no idea of the blasphemy he was committing.
Ben Duncanson is an Australian touring the United States. He started in Denver and Los Angeles and spent four days in Texas on his way down to Miami. While in Texas, he passed by UT’s Austin campus and bought a jersey.
While on his trip, he simply wanted to attend a football game. Upon finding no NFL game would coincide with his stops, he decided to attend college football’s semifinal in Miami.
“I didn’t realize it before I wore the shirt here, but I got told straight away,” Duncanson said. “I got asked what bowl I’m playing in (Texas at 5-7, of course, didn’t make a bowl game). All I could answer was ‘the Australian Bowl,’ which they’ve never heard of, understandably.”
Michigan State garb was seen more than once with Spartan fans apparently so confident they’ll advance against Alabama in the other semifinal that they decided they’d scope out the competition for the championship.
There were a few University of Miami fan sightings. They were in for a little bit of a better game than the 58-0 beatdown their Hurricanes took last time they watched Clemson at Sun Life on Oct. 24.