Last Sunday afternoon, Orange Bowl committee member Jeff Rubin set out for the Miami airport knowing he was going somewhere. Exactly where he wasn’t quite sure until the final BCS standings were released later that evening.
“We were following it the whole way,” said Rubin, who was in Morgantown Monday afternoon meeting with West Virginia University officials and entertaining media requests. “We weren’t quite sure what was going to happen with the Sugar, and once they finally made the decision about what they were going to do, that left us the opportunity to invite the BIG EAST team which was West Virginia. And of course on the other side we had the automatic qualifier of the ACC (Clemson).”
What the Orange Bowl is getting is perhaps one of the more compelling bowl matchups this year featuring two of the most explosive offenses in the country in West Virginia and Clemson. Unlike recent Orange Bowl matchups, this one actually has some appeal. In fact, Rivals.com has it ranked the ninth-best bowl game this year.
That’s a pretty good deal when you can have a team that is averaging 35 points per game and has been to three BCS bowls in the last six years fall right into your lap.
“We’re very, very pleased. It was touch and go for awhile there,” said Rubin. “We didn’t know what was going to happen with Baylor and Kansas State. There were so many opportunities, and we were fortunate enough to be able to get a team like West Virginia, and we already had the automatic qualifier. So for us it was a good opportunity. West Virginia is only 18 hours by driving, so it’s a doable trip. I understand school doesn’t go back to the following Monday, so it will be a nice student road trip.”
Indeed, plus, there’s plenty to do in South Beach in early January.
“One thing about the Orange Bowl … and our mission is to have people come down from both universities and make it an experience, not just about a game, but about an entire week and an entire festival,” Rubin explained. “We have events that are starting sometime around the 31st where we close down South Beach in an area that you all may know as Ocean Drive.
“We close that down and we have a coliseum that we create of our own and there will be performers and major artists from around the country that will be singing throughout the two or three days of new years,” he said. “We also have the coaches’ luncheon, which is the day before the game at one of the local hotels with around 700 people; coaches, alumni, various dignitaries and things like that.”
Then, of course, there is game day, and the Orange Bowl for years has been considered one of college football’s big boys when it comes to bowl games.
“We have the Bud Light Tailgate Zone, which is open to everybody that would like to go; it starts at around 11:30 in the morning all the way up until around kickoff,” said Rubin. “We’re trying to make the whole event into a festival, and that’s what we started out with 78 years ago when the Orange Bowl was first created, and we continue with that mission today.”
Rubin says the Orange Bowl is excited to be getting some new blood with West Virginia, which has never appeared in the game, and Clemson, making its first-ever BCS bowl appearance and its first major bowl trip since beating Nebraska in the 1981 Orange Bowl to win its only national championship. Plus, the two schools have hot, young coaches in Dana Holgorsen and Dabo Swinney.
“New blood and new experiences - I think that’s something that’s exciting about hosting teams that are coming down that have not been there before,” Rubin said. “They come down and they don’t know what to expect. Our motto for hosting is three things: hospitality, hospitality, hospitality.
“From the moment the plane lands at the tarmac and have fire hoses from two fire engines spraying over the plane, the players come down the stairs and are handed an orange, a backpack and a snack because they’re hungry. Then they’re taken off to the (team hotel) right on the beach in warm weather with 18 police officers on motorcycles escorting them,” Rubin said. “It’s presidential and it’s an amazing experience. But this is what the players have earned. This is their week and this is what they’ve worked so hard for and that’s what’s special about going to a BCS game.”
Rubin said the bowl has presold 60,000 tickets for the game, including the 17,500 tickets allocated to both schools. Just how big of a crowd shows up for this year’s game will be determined by how many tickets each school sells in a month’s time.
“Those tickets are available for people who are interested from West Virginia by going onto the website at www.WVUGAME.com
, and we encourage everybody from the university to buy their tickets through your own website,” Rubin said. “We want you to sell out your own tickets. West Virginia fans will be in the northwest quadrant of the stadium and Clemson fans will be in the southeast quadrant of the stadium, so it creates a nice atmosphere and nice colors in the stadium. The balance of the fans that will come are from local fans that support the Orange Bowl over the years and people of interest that happen to be in town.”
Playing the game in Sun Life Stadium instead of the historic Miami Orange Bowl has also changed the appeal of the game.
“The old facility had its flavor and its history. The environment was a little different than what we have right now,” Rubin noted. “Now we have offices and suites and air conditioning and bathrooms that actually flush and things like that. We’re so proud to have a great partnership with Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins, and of course, Discover. It creates a difference. Let’s not kid ourselves; it all comes down to money and people wanting a little bit better experience.
“Once the game starts off to the very end, there’s not one quiet moment - there’s always something going on and we’re trying to promote someone’s product,” Rubin said. “The good news is that we have two teams who are so closely matched and haven’t seen each other except for one time. I think that that’s going to make a very interesting matchup and a very exciting game. We’re certainly looking forward to it.”