CLEARWATER — The weather didn't look so good early Monday, but it was postcard-worthy by the time the Louisiana State University Tigers cheerleaders dug their heels into the sugar sand of Clearwater Beach in a tug of war against the cheering squad from their Outback Bowl rivals, the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
The annual Outback Bowl "Clearwater Beach Day" attracted a black and gold-heavy crowd as Iowa partisans were eager for a day of Florida frolic.
As the event kicked off, complete with marching band demonstrations, pie-eating contests and a visit from the players, organizers announced it was one degree below zero in Iowa City. "Those winter state people. They just want to get out of the cold," said Terry Schmidt, who produced the event.
Throwing a football through the wind to his two Hawkeye-clad sons, Jim Ostrowski, 39, said his family had hoped for better weather, but the '96 Iowa alum was happy to be wearing shorts and playing in the sand.
A small band of LSU alums, who had driven the 700-plus miles from Baton Rouge, pronounced the trip worthwhile. The beach wasn't really the draw. For them, it was a chance to see Tigers coach Les Miles before the New Year's Day bowl game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
"We drive more miles for Les Miles," quipped Roslyn Greer, class of '75, standing with husband Russell, class of '71, and son, Ryan, 32, another alum who works at LSU.
By the time Miles took the stage about 2:30 p.m., it was sunny and mild, more Tigers faithful had shown up and a predicted crowd of 6,000 no longer seemed laughable.
A sky-dive event had been canceled because of the early bad weather, but as an organizer handed Miles a red hat with the sky-dive company's logo, he paused before accepting it. The SEC veteran coach undoubtedly knew what was coming. "That's the wrong color," bellowed one fan. "This ain't no 'Roll Tide' or Arkansas whatever."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also addressed his fans. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos gave both coaches gifts and encouraged everyone to visit Winter the dolphin at the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
LSU and Iowa last played each other in the 2005 Capital One Bowl, which ended with a spectacular pass to secure an Iowa win. In an event laced with pep and doused with more than a little party, pride surfaced in three tug of war contests between cheerleaders for the two schools (Iowa 3, LSU 0).
"We're corn-fed," roared a sturdy Hawkeye lad.
"I don't even like corn. It's full of sugar," drawled a purple-clad woman.