For 12 days, I voyaged down to Miami, FL, partly for vacation and partly to experience the BCS National Championship. I knew not what to expect, though I had an inclination that it would a most unforgettable experience.
Oh, how right I was.
Dear South Beach,
Where do I even begin with you? You promised to be a rip-roaring good time, and boy, did you deliver! For a week leading up to National Championship Monday, we explored all your bright white sandy shores had to offer, everything from the real-life Miami Ink tattoo shop to airboat swamp tours down in the Everglades. We ventured to Ft. Lauderdale and swam with string rays, careful to keep the wildlife only in our hearts metaphorically (R.I.P. Steve Irwin!).
We visited art museums, participated in the art-deco walk down Ocean Drive, and really got swept up in the culture of South Florida.
But the crème de la crème of the trip began the Friday before the title game, and crystallized on the fateful day Alabama would beat Notre Dame like Sitting Bull beat General Custer during his last stand.
From the moment we set foot on your coral shores, South Beach, you enveloped us in a warm embrace. The wind ran its salty fingertips through our hair and across our faces, beckoning us to take a dip in the sea green and cerulean water. We obliged, and the crystal clear waves gently lulled us into a state of relaxation.
We had work to do though, so begrudgingly we trudged out of the surf and walked back across the toasty sand to the ESPN College Game Day set. With the Alabama and Notre Dame fans having yet to arrive, we had an unobstructed view of the Game Day production. The iconic orange bus sat next to the stage and clusters of tourists stood in front of it, posing for pictures. The Mercedes, Bentleys and Ferraris that cruise Ocean Drive slowed to check out the happenings and a few passengers even jumped out of their fly rides to get pictures. We could sense that the party was only just beginning, and as we would come to find out, would crank into overdrive the following day.
On Saturday we drove back across the bridge that spans a portion of the bay. The water sparkled in the sun like Swarovski crystals while a few yachts lazily traversed the channel to arrive at the larger-than-life homes on Star Island. From our car we gazed enviously at the palatial pads, residences fit for a king and all of his extended family members but that probably house one or two people in reality. Even more yachts and cigarette boats floated alongside docks with the almost nonexistent current. Around the bend, streets shaded by Royal and Spanish palms and high-end storefronts signaled that we had once again arrived at you, South Beach.
Where yesterday luxury cars and taxis cruised Ocean Drive, thousands of fans clad from head to toe in blue, green, and gold or red, white, and houndstooth had taken over. The road had been closed to car traffic, and literally thousands of bodies littered the sidewalks and spilled over into the street. Calls of “Roll Tide!” and “Go Irish!” rang out from all directions. For a moment, a twinge of jealousy ran through us, as the many red shirts and jerseys we saw were not accented by gold, as was expected to be the case back in August.
While traipsing Ocean Drive, we found the area designated for the Fan Experience, complete with a skills competition sponsored by Bud Light (positioned right next to the Bud Light party tent, of course), a photo opportunity with Alabama “players”, a zip line, life-size Monopoly sponsored by the Florida Lottery (which was a riot, let me tell ya!) and all kinds of fun activities and giveways brought to fans by Miami’s Marlins, Heat, and Dolphins. The Fan Experience took place right next to Miami’s version of Muscle Beach, a place where completely shredded men and the occasional woman showed of the jaw-dropping things they could do with their bodies.
It was on Muscle Beach where we stood, absolutely mesmerized by a young man(left) who pulled himself up over the top of a pull-ups bar before proceeding to do push-ups literally in the air, that we met some fascinating fans.
There was the elderly couple that got married many moons ago during an Alabama bye week, and had yet to miss a home or road game over the past decade. There was the young Notre Dame fan, no more than 11, who had his allegiance to the Fighting Irish shaved into the back of his head. There was the father and son from Colorado who traveled all the way to South Beach without tickets but were prepared to pay whatever it took to score a pair for the big game. And there was the gaggle of Alabama fraternity brethren and sorority girls that had yet to sober up at any point, stumbling around looking for the next spot to rage.
We followed their lead and crowd surfed our way to the restaurants and bars that line the famous street parallel to the beach. Exotic-looking hostesses smiled at us, inviting us to pull up a chair at their respective eateries for happy hour specials. We soon realized that “happy hour” really meant “happy day”, as these places ran their specials into the wee hours of the morning. From 6th street to the hotels located at 15th, dozens of bistros and pubs clamored for the attention of tourists looking to empty their pockets on and fill their bellies with South Beach cuisine.
Many places piqued our interest. First we stopped at the Colony, an art-deco hotel adorned with a gigantic neon blue sign. What brought us there? It’s next to the building where the famous chainsaw scene from Scarface took place, a building that is now Johnny Rocket’s. From there we hit up the Breakwater hotel, its loud music and colorful drinks appealing to the younger fans in attendance.
But the best, the funnest, and most happening-est party on South Beach was at The Clevelander. We know because we walked all nine blocks of Ocean Drive to be sure. A large banner advertising the official pregame party for Notre Dame and Bama fans hung above the restaurant, and that proclamation went above and beyond expectations. We ventured inside and were soon overwhelmed by fans tearing through racks and display tables in search of authentic BCS Championship gear. We swam through the crowd to get outside where we found the bar and outdoor patio area teeming with tipsy—and only getting tipsier—college football fans. Top 40 tunes pulsated through our bodies while a “Gangnam Style” competition went down between two female Bama and Notre Fans.
The Bama fan won, foreshadowing the events to come on Monday night.
Friendly bartenders made drinks on drinks on drinks, and the DJ kept the crowd hyped by spinning the best tracks and engaging fans with fun games. It almost felt like an outdoor frat party, with bodies taking up nearly all of the available space and young adults feeling more and more comfortable with each other after each drink. Fans from both team verbally sparred with the other, only to later raise their cups of beer or margaritas to ask the football gods for a good weekend. As the sun dipped beyond the horizon, red, purple, and gold tones dances across the cloudless South Florida sky and the party got more hoppin’. Couples danced, other people sang along with whatever song piped through the speakers, and the crowd around the bar never got thinner. With the moon having replaced the sun, the warm night only got hotter as more people gathered at The Clevelander.
It was debauchery at its finest, and man was it incredible!
The game was still two days away, South Beach, and already you had gone above and beyond our expectations of what the weekend would be like. We anxiously waited for Monday to roll around, where more festivities were surely in store for us.
Before we could return to South Beach on January 9, we first had actual business to attend to in Ft. Lauderdale. We went to the Football Writers Association of America’s annual awards breakfast, where we networked with other sports journalists and heard the testimonies of various athletes and coaches receiving honors. The glorious Coaches’ Poll trophy stood majestically in the corner, its crystal ball casting tiny rainbows across the room.
Having completed breakfast, we were ready for the big game.
Hours later we made our final trek to South Beach, looking to watch the game at The Clevelander, obviously. To our chagrin the bar area was at capacity, so we settled on Mango’s instead. A Latin-inspired bar, Mango’s served as just as good a time, a place where we watched Bama fans get progressively drunk and jubilant juxtaposed with Notre Dame fans getting progressively drunk and depressed. Without a dog in the fight, it was good times all around for us. Glow in the dark pinks, lime greens, and blues cast dancing lights on the varying expressions of satisfaction and disbelief across the faces of those seated at the bar until the Notre Dame fans quietly bowed out in disgrace. Once the Alabama beat down ended, the Crimson Tide crashed down onto the street in biblical proportions. Folks in red shirts whooped and hollered, screamed and shouted, and the tide just kept on rolling long into the night.
When it came time to return to California Wednesday afternoon, we packed out backs with heavy, but content hearts. It was a 12-day adventure for the ages, South Beach, one that we are grateful to have participated in. It was our first BCS National Championship experience, and we have to say, we highly doubt any city in American can top the extravaganza you give to football fans. Pasadena, Phoenix and New Orleans are nice and all—great cities, even—but nothing compares to the South Beach experience.
I understand why Lebron James wanted to take his talents to you, why Will Smith and LMFAO have paid homage to your sandy shores in catchy pop tunes, and why thousands of snow bunnies winter here every year.
So I say all that to say, thank you. Thanks for showing us the best way to experience the BCS National Championship. Thanks for bringing us together with some of the kookiest fans in sports. Thanks for reminding us that win or lose, life is what you make of it, and you should always make it a party.
Thanks for the memories, South Beach. It’s been real.