Bowling ’em over
Even in the Gasparilla, UCF bowl win is a thrilla
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) celebrates after a touchdown against Marshall during the Gasparilla Bowl on Monday in Tampa. Dillon threw for two TDs and earned Most Valuable Player honors in UCF's 48-25 win over the Thundering Herd. It was the Knights' 10th win of the season, giving them a third consecutive double-digit win season.
TAMPA — “Singin’ in the rain,
Just singin’ in the rain, What a glorious feeling, UCF fans are happy again.”
With apologies to the great Gene Kelly and his classic movie, we saw on a stormy Monday afternoon why “meaningless” bowl games are actually quite meaningful. They are meaningful because they give fans, players and coaches another chance to have some fun and make some memories.
UCF fans, many of whom played hooky from work, literally were singing, dancing, hugging and high-fiving in the rain as the Knights closed out a third consecutive season with at least 10 wins en route to Monday’s 48-25 blowout of Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl.
UCF fans had an absolute blast watching Richie Grant scoring the Knights’ first touchdown on a 39-yard pick-six and Tre’mon Morris-Brash scoring another defensive TD on a 55-yard fumble return.
They were euphoric when Otis Anderson scored from 35 yards away on a fourth-and-7 swing pass or when Mar
lon Williams took another short pass from quarterback Dillon Gabriel and sprinted 75 yards for a TD.
The crowd even sang along after the game as the UCF band played its rendition of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.”
“We’re gonna have a good time tonight,
Let’s celebrate, it’s all right …
Celebrate good times, come on!”
As the band played, UCF players proudly hoisted the Gasparilla Bowl trophy into the air during the postgame party. UCF coach Josh Heupel was hugging everybody in his path. Freshman Gabriel, the bowl MVP, humbly thanked the fans and paid homage to a senior class that has had more wins than any other class in school history.
Asked what it meant to close his college career with a bowl victory in front of UCF’s soggy-but-celebrating fans, UCF senior linebacker Nate Evans said, “It’s heartwarming how the fans have treated us. They ask for pictures, they ask for hugs, they ask for kisses.” Meaningless bowl game? I think not. Seriously, what could be more fun for UCF fans than relishing a bowl victory in USF’s home stadium? Kudos to the 33,539 mostly
UCF fans for showing up and relishing in the moment and shame on those fans who have spent the last couple of weeks bickering and complaining about UCF’s bowl matchup.
Granted, the Gasparilla Bowl is major comedown from UCF’s Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl appearances of the past two seasons, but it’s still college football and it’s still a chance to watch your team play one more game. I get that there are many flaws in the bowl games, which are money-losers for many of the participating schools and have become little more than programming for ESPN during the holiday season.
Even so, I don’t understand the psyche of many college football fans of today who complain about their team’s bowl matchups. I’ve heard UCF fans complain about having to play Marshall; I’ve heard Miami fans complaining about having to play Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl; I’ve even heard Gator fans bellyaching about their matchup with Virginia in the Bowl. Orange
Are you kidding me? It’s the freaking Orange Bowl, for crying out loud!
Fans complaining about bowl games is akin to Scarlett Johansson’s significant other complaining about her tattoos. But, sadly, this mindset has become more and more prevalent among college fans.
Go ahead and call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I remember when UF fans used to be happy about going to now-defunct holiday classics like the AstroBluebonnet Bowl or the Tangerine Bowl. And I can remember when UCF fans used to be happy about going to bowl!
And we wonder why so many players these days are sitting out bowl games? Maybe it’s because of the mentality of so many fans (and media) in a college football world now dominated by the playoff system. If fans don’t think bowl games are important, then why should the players? It’s like Alabama coach Nick Saban warned when he first noticed how the bowls had been minimized by the playoff.
“It used to be going to the Rose Bowl — when you played in the Big Ten — was the ultimate of any experience that you could ever have,” Saban said. “If you played in the SEC, going to the Sugar Bowl was that same thing. If you played in the Big 12, it was going to the Orange Bowl. Those things don’t exist anymore. We have a playoff, everyone’s interested in the playoff [and] no one is interested in anything else.”
“So now that [this mentality] has trickled down to the players. How can you blame the players for that?”
In a way, even UCF has fallen victim to the playoffification any of college football. The Knights, who finished unbeaten in the previous two regular seasons and have gone to major New Year’s Six bowl games, had some bowl defections this year for the first time. UCF record-setting wide receiver Gabe Davis joined the growing number of college players who skipped their bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. Also sitting out the game for UCF were electric running back Adrian Killins and cornerback Nevelle Clarke.
If UCF were playing in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State, Davis, Killins and Co. would have probably played. Of course, you can’t blame them for protecting their potential NFL futures. Davis, though, was on the sideline during the game and took part in the postgame celebration.
“I have to admit, I missed being out there playing today, but I wanted to be here with my guys,” Davis said. “Winning a bowl game, any bowl game, is big.”
You got that right — especially for programs such as UCF. Let’s not forget, it wasn’t that long ago when UCF would have begged to get a bid to the Gasparilla Bowl. In the final year of the great Daunte Culpepper era at UCF, the Knights finished 9-2 and were NOT invited to play in a bowl game. UCF’s first bowl game was just 14 years ago and the Knights have only been to 10 bowl games in their history.
Which is why it was refreshing to see so many UCF players and fans so euphoric after the game. It was almost like going back in time to a day and age before corporate sponsors, TV contracts, ESPN programmers and the College Football Playoff selection committee got involved.
Yes, the Knights lost three games this season, but they won 10 — again.
“You look at this season: there are goals we didn’t accomplish, but I hope we never get to the point as a program and a fan base where our fans and outside voices aren’t really appreciative of what our kids do every single day,” Heupel said. “It’s tough in college football to go win 10.”
Hey, can we cue up some more Kool and the Gang, please?
“There’s a party goin’ on right here,
A celebration to last throughout the years,
So bring your good times, and your laughter too,
We gonna celebrate your party with you!” Email me at [email protected]lando sentinel.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.
UCF defensive back Richie Grant celebrates after scoring on a 39-yard interception return in the first quarter against Marshall in the Knights’ Gasparilla Bowl victory Monday in Tampa.