Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

Outback Bowl fans enjoy the weather and the (somewhat friendly) competition

TAMPA

The competition began in the parking lot.

Fans of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks squared off against supporters of the University of Michigan Wolverines. Wearing their respective team colors, a few stood at opposite ends of the field with a look of concentration on their faces — a not-so-friendly game of cornhole under way.

"When we beat you in cornhole, we beat you in everything," Gordon Davis, a Michigan fan from Fort Myers, told a Gamecock fan tailgating nearby.

But the bean bag toss was just the preshow for fans who came to watch the teams face off in the Outback Bowl on Tuesday at Raymond James Stadium. South Carolina beat Michigan in a nail-biter, 33-28, in front of 54,527 fans.

As the 1 p.m. kickoff time neared, trash talk heated up, though it wasn't always aimed at each other.

"The Gamecocks are not bad fans," Davis, 24, said. "Ohio State I hate, Florida I can't stand. But I've got nothing against the Gamecocks."

Grande Melton, 24, who traveled eight hours from Sumter, S.C., to support the Gamecocks, agreed.

"We don't really have a rivalry against Michigan," Melton said. "We play Michigan today, but we still hate Clemson."

Despite the friendly banter, no one was there to watch their team lose.

"I'm not going to lie, Michigan has a good football team," Melton said. "But when they play against South Carolina, they're going to lose."

Matt Nelson, 38, lives in Tampa and is a South Carolina alumnus.

"(Coach Steve) Spurrier mentally gets the team prepared to play in bowl games," Nelson said. And the energy of all the traveling fans helps, he said.

For Darryl Jardine, a Michigan native who lives in Spring Hill, the competition itself is not what lured him to the game. "As long as Michigan is here, we'll come every time," Jardine said.

Ray Heter, 63, and his son, Bryan, 39, both of Spring Hill, come to the Outback Bowl every year no matter which teams are playing. On Tuesday, they couldn't agree on which one to support.

"I'm rooting for South Carolina," Ray Heter said. "My son is probably rooting for Michigan, so we'll be competing."

What most fans could agree on was the weather.

"It's the best weather possible," said Lou Pope, a 22-year-old recent University of Michigan graduate who lives in Ann Arbor. "It's only like 20 degrees at home."

Pope and his family drove 24 hours through snow and rain to get to the game this week. His thick winter coat hung from a seat in his family's van as they tailgated in short sleeve shirts.

While he wanted to see a Michigan win, either way, they know what waits for them back home: cold.

"By the time we make it to Kentucky," Pope said, "we'll have the coats back on."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.

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