In My Opinion

Joseph Goodman: Early start for UM-UF game gives fans unique opportunities to party

It started with a campus party at the University of Miami. From there, the night moved to Monty’s Raw Bar, an institution of inebriation in Coconut Grove. But the night was young and South Beach beckoned.

Joe Altieri told himself before it all started that it wasn’t going to come to that. He told himself he probably needed a break between parties before he and his friends started tailgating at 6 a.m. at Sun Life Stadium for the Canes-Gators game. Instead, Altieri made the wise decision and went to Buck 15 on Lincoln Road.

“I’m on vacation, so what the hell,” said Altieri, who answered questions in between tosses of beer pong played with cheap champagne and even cheaper beer. It was 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and Altieri, who traveled from New York for the Florida vs. Miami game, had been partying all night and all morning. Amazingly, he could still speak in complete sentences.

Altieri’s friend, on the other hand, was an early favorite for tailgate MVP. While Altieri was busy dominating beer pong like he invented the game, Jimmy Henderson and his friends were polishing off their eighth bottle of champagne.

“It’s early in the morning, so you’ve got to be fancy about it,” said Henderson, a Canes grad from Boston who had a half bottle of Cook’s in his left hand.

Cook’s retails for about $8.99.

Like many of the fans who arrived at Sun Life Stadium before the sun on Saturday morning, Altieri and Henderson pulled the ultimate college football all-nighters — campus keg party, South Beach, Sun Life Stadium — for what could be the final regular-season game between instate rivals Miami and Florida. The noon kickoff on Saturday offered a unique challenge for those crazy enough to try it. Some people camped out in their cars to enter the stadium’s parking lot the second it opened. Hundreds arrived before dawn.

It was an all-night vigil for one last victory; a wake of sorts for yet another piece of this religion we call college football that is dying.

All over the country some of college football’s best rivalries are going away due to conference realignment. Michigan and Notre Dame ended their rivalry Saturday. Texas A&M no longer plays Texas. Nebraska and Oklahoma have called it quits. Miami and Florida stopped playing annually years ago, which is a shame because the scene on Saturday morning at Sun Life Stadium should happen every other year.

For example, not far from Altieri and Henderson’s tailgate, a drinking game involving tubes, valves, a three-gallon jug and hunch punch was working overtime before 9 a.m. This particular hunch punch consisted of vodka and fruit punch. Some folks, particularly those in the Deep South, make the stuff with pure-grain alcohol, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

The hunch-punch crew reminded me of one important thing on Saturday morning. College kids don’t need a rivalry game to binge drink, and I guess that’s the real reason a bigger fuss hasn’t been made about schools canceling rivalries for cash. For most, it’s not really about the football.

But for the people who arrived at 4:30 a.m. in order to enter the stadium’s parking lot at the very moment security opened the gates, Saturday was more than just another excuse to party. They were all drinking, too, of course, but the early birds were the people who wanted to celebrate every moment of the experience. Some diehards were waiting before 3 a.m., according to stadium personnel. Going to have to take their words for it.

I was lazy and showed up at 6:15.

Ray Muñiz, Billy Kolonias and two other friends arrived much earlier. Fans located in one particular lot at Sun Life Stadium (the blue lot) were allowed to begin setting up at 5 a.m. Muñiz and Kolonias were playing dominoes between sips of Miller Lite around 6:30.

South Beach isn’t exactly their speed, but they did their duty all the same. Muñiz fished on a canal all night before arriving at the stadium around 4:30.

“We originally wanted to catch some gators and bring them to the stadium, but we couldn’t find any,” Muñiz said.

That’s probably for the best. Instead, the fishermen settled on alligator gar. As proof, Muñiz pulled out his iPhone and showed off a picture. Nasty fish, the alligator gar.

A fan of the Canes since the early 1980s, Dave Rodriguez went to bed around 9:30 p.m. on Friday to start his Saturday tailgating around 5:30 a.m. He grew up in Hialeah and now lives near Sarasota. Rodriguez’s partying days are over but that didn’t stop him from starting Saturday morning off with a bloody Mary. He sautéed onions and hash browns in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet while speaking of joy and lament. He was hopefully for a successful season, but, like most longtime Canes fans, he expressed bitterness about the end of a rivalry.

“It’s terrible but it really ended way back when Florida had their excuse to quit playing,” said Rodriguez, who cooked in a green and orange apron decorated with Hurricanes logos. “All the good rivalries seem to be going away.”

When is it socially acceptable to drink before dawn? At parties and funerals.

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