TAMPA — At 9:30 a.m. on New Year's Day, Glen Snyder pranced around the Raymond James Stadium parking lot in a yellow and black polyester suit and tie, sporting a yellow mustache and mirrored sunglasses.
"Today's my birthday, the Hawkeyes are playing, and we're in Tampa!" Snyder yelled as Clarence Carter's Strokin' blared from nearby tailgate speakers. "I couldn't get any better than this!"
On a morning when most people were doing well just to get out of bed, more than 55,000 fans from the University of Iowa and University of South Carolina turned out early Thursday at Tampa's Outback Bowl to enjoy sunshine, football, grilled meats and inebriating substances.
Shorts and sunburns were the attire of choice for the hordes of Iowa fans who made the trip to Florida this week, despite dipping temps that were enough to send some Tampa Bay natives back to their "winter clothes" boxes for bundling.
"It's 8 degrees in Iowa and it's 70 here!" Mike Stout, 22, exclaimed as he held the drinking end of an elaborately decorated "Hawk Bong" provided by fellow Iowan Quinn Morelock, also 22. "This is sweet!"
Gamecock fans appeared to be fewer in number. Then again, Columbia, S.C., is a lot less chilly than Iowa City this time of year.
South Carolina fan Brian Holt, 44, sipped on a Bloody Mary while he and his family huddled behind the open tailgate of their red sport utility vehicle. Holt said the sheer number of Iowans prompted them to rethink their breakfast plans.
"There were so many Iowa fans at the Comfort Inn breakfast bar this morning, we couldn't go near," he said.
A few tailgating rows away, Chris Buhr's nose was peeling from three days at the beach. The Cedar Falls, Iowa, resident could not contain his enthusiasm as he gripped a can of Bud Light and hobnobbed with other Hawkeyes.
It didn't hurt that Iowa ended up stomping the Gamecocks by a whopping 31-10.
"Iowa loves Tampa!" Buhr, 23, shouted. "If we could come to a bowl game every year, it would be Tampa. Tampa takes the cake each year."
While fans enjoyed the football, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies used the Outback Bowl as a communications and operations dry run for the Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1.
Tampa Police Department Assistant Chief Jane Castor said afterward that the process helped them identify and "iron out" potential wrinkles.
"It was an outstanding success," she said. "This will be the best Super Bowl to date."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3383.