Tiger fans warm up to `Football in Paradise'


Dec. 31, 2009

When Brian Godwin and his family left Huntsville and headed toward Tampa Bay on Tuesday, the temperature hovered in the 30s. By the time their toes touched the sandy white beaches of Clearwater Beach on Wednesday morning, they were soaking in the sun and enjoying the Tampa Bay area's milder temperatures as the weather warmed to the 70s for the Outback Bowl Beach Day festivities.

"We were so happy when we found out Auburn had been picked for the Outback Bowl," said Brian, who made the trip with his wife, Patricia, and son Christian, 10, who clutched an Auburn football autographed by players he'd seen at the beach event. "The weather down here and having the beach makes this the perfect vacation. It's beautiful here."

The Godwins were among several thousand Auburn and Northwestern fans enjoying the day at the beach, which featured a tug-of-war between the schools' cheerleaders-Auburn's won 2 of 3 matches-pie eating contests, the school's bands, Aubie and more.

Fans soaking up the fun at the beach must have felt as though they were in a time warp as they sunned on the beach and even played in the surf-only five days after Christmas. A vintage pirate ship even sailed by on the turquoise-colored waters and fired off cannon shots. The strains of beach music from a live band and the sounds of Auburn and Northwestern cheers added to the festive atmosphere.

Auburn cheerleader Benton Sprayberry, a junior from Auburn making her first bowl trip, said the Outback Bowl experience has been a memorable one.

"It's been an amazing atmosphere down here on the beach today," Sprayberry said. "The hospitality has just been great, not only from the City of Clearwater but also from the bowl officials. It's 37 degrees in Auburn right now, so this is a nice, nice change. It's just been great to see so many Auburn families here as well as fellow students enjoying the Outback Bowl. I think it's great to see students venturing down here to support Auburn."

The cheerleaders and band members were set to enjoy a bit of free time before another round of activities on New Year's Eve Day, including a parade and pep rally.



Wayne Bolt, Auburn's Director of Football Operations, accepted a key to the City of Clearwater and thanked Outback Bowl, Tampa Bay and Clearwater officials for their hospitality.

"It's a beautiful day, and we're excited about being here," Bolt told said. "This is a great venue for our players, our coaching staff and the Auburn Family-and we are a family. You can't get any better than the white beaches of South Florida," Bolt said.

The day at the beach was fun and games for the Auburn faithful and select players, but the team put in its final full practice on Wednesday in preparation for Friday's game against Northwestern. A walk-through was scheduled for the team for Thursday, but fans expected to have more fun with a New Year's Eve Parade and Band Blast in historic Ybor City, an entertainment hub in the heart of downtown Tampa.