Due respect to the two football teams that were borrowing Dolphins stadium on Friday night and to the great show they delivered, but it was tough for a local to not be preoccupied instead with the two teams that take up regular residence in the place.
Ohio State and Clemson were only visiting, playing in the 80th annual Orange Bowl — won by Clemson in a 40-35 thriller — but swirling around the constancy of this most enduring of Miami sports traditions was the percolating uncertainty of the hometown teams who play here, the Dolphins and Hurricanes.
This night was all about change.
Change can be scary.
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Most Canes fans are feeling that right now as they weigh speculation that popular coach Al Golden could be bolting for his alma mater, Penn State, a job suddenly and enticingly open. ESPN reported Friday that Golden is one of three preferred candidates and will (or perhaps already has) interviewed for the job.
Change, when it doesn’t happen, can be disappointing.
Many Dolphins fans are feeling that at the moment as it begins to appear that five straight years out of the NFL playoffs, including this season’s late collapse, will result in the status quo, not change. That unpopular general manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman both might keep their jobs.
Change — the fear of it, or the demand for it — can be such that the simple absence of it as a consideration at all can be reassuring, calming.
That’s the Orange Bowl.
We can’t be sure where the Dolphins are headed, or where Golden might be, or when, but we know where the Orange Bowl is going. Nowhere. It is going to be right here, steady as time itself.
Actors come and go in an endless parade, but the Oscars are the Oscars.
Teams come and go as well, but the Orange Bowl is the Orange Bowl, timeless, bigger than the randomness of a particular matchup, a South Florida treasure in perpetuity.
We need to celebrate what’s turning 80. Always. We do so with people because we don’t know how long we’ll be able to. We should do so with the Orange Bowl because there are no such doubts.
Everything about Miami has changed over the generations, right down to the way we look and speak.
It seems only the Orange Bowl is the same.
The first OB of record was Jan. 1, 1935 (though the game’s roots trace nine years earlier), and God bless anyone still around who recalls that start.
The annual game moved from the venerable, doomed Orange Bowl stadium to Dolphins stadium in 1997, title sponsors have changed (none of them meaning a damn to anyone but accountants), and different teams parade in and out, but the event, the spectacle, endures. No, thrives. And will continue to as the NCAA transitions next season from the Bowl Championship Series to a four-team playoffs.
Who could envision that first Orange Bowl might grow into what it did, right through to Friday night’s touchdown-drenched spectacle?
The event was born as an economic and publicity tool for Miami just as America was clawing its way out from under the Great Depression. It helped build the bridge that led an isolated fishing village to become a tourism Mecca.
“Have a Green Christmas in Miami!” went the earliest PR cry.
Try to imagine life during the 1934 football season that preceded the very first Orange Bowl game.
It was the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt. John Dillinger had escaped from jail. The Dust Bowl raked across the Great Plains. Dizzy Dean led the Cardinals to the World Series. Alcatraz opened. Adolf Hitler was rising to power in Germany.
In Miami a brand new Studebaker cost $625 and you could fill it with gas for 10 cents a gallon.
This was three decades before the Dolphins were even a gleam in Joe Robbie’s eye. Five decades before UM introduced itself as a national football power.
Every year since ’35 the teams have come, visiting the local shrine. National championships have been won here — as recently as Alabama over Notre Dame just last year. The span of Orange Bowl MVPs has run from Joe Namath to Andrew Luck.
Ohio State and Clemson rose to meet the event’s history nicely, as arguably the most attractive of 35 bowl matchups other than the big one — Monday night’s Florida State-Auburn National-Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.
This was the BCS Championship Game that might have been.
Ohio State was unbeaten and ranked No. 2, seeming destined for a title shot, until an unexpected late loss in the Big Ten championship. Clemson was ranked as high as No. 3 at midseason before losing.
Unpredictability also surrounded this OB because these teams had not played each other since 1978, in the game in which Ohio State coach Woody Hayes got himself fired by infamously punching a Clemson player. (Call it progress: Current Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer did not clock an opponent Friday night.)
A full-throated 72,080 filled the stadium, and with plenty to cheer.
In the end, though, this night was about Ohio State and Clemson no more than it was about this historic event turning 80. About Miami … about us.
The Dolphins might or might not make big changes. Al Golden might or might not leave UM. There are few constants you can rely on in local football or in South Florida life in general, in or out of sports.
This you can count on, though. Always.
The Orange Bowl game will be here.