They're tearing down the Orange Bowl. Not right now, of course, they're going to wait until the University of Miami finishes their final game there. And then Florida International, the Golden Panthers, play their last three home games. Then it all comes tumbling down. All those , all those amazing finishes, classic moments, all those memories, about to be buried under a pile of rubble.
It's not the Florida football memories I have, but the memories I have of football in Florida. In 1991, the University of Colorado Golden Buffaloes won their first National Championship in college football in the Orange Bowl, 10-9. It was a fan's dream, I'm sure, to be there in person. I wasn't. I was there in 1990. I still have the souvenir cup from my three dollar coke. That was the year that the Buffaloes lost to the Fighting Irish, 21-6.
I flew down for the game with my father and his friend Leonard. We made the trip in Leonard's single engine Beechcraft Continental. I rode in the back seat, where I sat on the bags and stayed as bundled up as I could against the cold. We stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas for fuel, and I can still remember the landing we made in heavy fog. Leonard was cool as a cucumber, aeronautically speaking, having made dozens of more difficult landings in more severe conditions. My father and I were holding our collective breath as we dropped out of the low clouds on the runway soft as silk. We made one more stop before Miami, in Orlando for the day at Disney World before heading down to Miami.
On New Year's Eve I had the best seafood fettuccine I ever had in my life in an Italian restaurant that, if it wasn't run by the mob, should have been. The next morning came, and we started making our plans for the game. I wore my jersey, number sixty-nine, and made the slow trek through darkened neighborhoods into the cavernous construction that hosted the Big Eight Champions battling the traditional independent powerhouse Fighting Irish. Our seats were good, underneath the overhang near the twenty yard line. Sadly, it was Lou Holtz's team that kept passing by, as the best the Buffs could manage one trip across the goal line. Lou had a habit of kneeling down and grabbing grass to nibble on as he watched the game sidelines, and after an elephant left a very sizable deposit on the Notre Dame sideline during the halftime extravaganza I used my father's binoculars to see if the coach would inadvertently stumble on some of the newly fertilized turf as he grazed in the second half.
It didn't matter. The Buffs didn't put up much of a fight, and we went back to Leonard's sister's house in somber contemplation of what could have been. The flight home was made without incident or stop at major theme parks as we put a period on the 1989 college football season. There was some mild relief when we decided not to make the return trip the following year, even though the hype was much more ferocious. We watched the National Championship game in the comfort and relative safety of our basement. It was a much more exciting game, but my father and I agreed that it wasn't the same as being there.
The Federal Express Orange Bowl has been played in Pro Players Stadium since 1996, and the Bowl Championship Series has kept that elusive national championship more of a math exercise than an athletic competition. The Buffs have made created their own stumbling blocks on their way to repeat that experience. Doug Flutie's miracle toss, the great Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls, and Broadway Joe Namath's guaranteed victory over the Colts will soon be another flat spot on the Miami skyline. But it will always be a high point for me.