Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde grew up in Cincinnati and moved to Naples when he was 15.
But until he arrived at the Westin Diplomat Hotel Resort & Spa last weekend for the Discover Orange Bowl, he had no idea Hollywood was sandwiched between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
“I always thought it was at the top," said Hyde, who described the view from his “awesome" hotel — the ocean on one side and city on the other — as “pretty sweet.”
“It’s like a beautiful day here all the time. There are a lot of fans around here — more than I expected. They’ve shown us a lot of love."
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That love isn’t confined to the Buckeyes.
“This is as good as it gets," said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who has been to Miami four times for Orange Bowls, including three that served as Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national title games. “We couldn’t ask for a better experience."
The Orange Bowl celebrates its 80th anniversary at 8:30 p.m. Friday when BCS No. 7 Ohio State (12-1) takes on No. 12 Clemson (10-2) at Sun Life Stadium, another marquee matchup in a bowl that has boasted many.
“I’ve never left South Florida for New Year’s because I’ve been to every Orange Bowl game since I was 5 — every parade, every sporting event, every festival," said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, a third-generation Orange Bowl Committee member. “It’s some of the fondest memories I have and among the most active memories we still have as a family."
Added former OB president Christopher Knight, another third-generation OB member whose father, Charles Frasuer Knight, 81, won the first OB youth regatta in 1945 and as of this week was still taking visitors on his boat to watch the youngsters compete: “The Orange Bowl remains as strong as ever."
Friday’s game will mark the last Orange Bowl within the current college football championship system, in which the four major bowl games and the national title game rotated among the Orange, Sugar (New Orleans), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.) and Rose (Pasadena, Calif).
After the national championship game is played between Florida State and Auburn on Monday night in Pasadena, the new four-team “College Football Playoff" system begins. Under the 12-year system, the Orange Bowl will continue to be one of six major players. The others: the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Chick-fil-A (Atlanta) and Cotton (Arlington, Texas).
“It’s going to be great for South Florida," said Seiler, 50, whose grandfather Earnest was the first executive director and one of the founders of the Orange Bowl Committee. “When you look at the new system, you realize that while the landscape of college football has changed, the Orange Bowl has not only survived but has prospered.
“There are a lot of communities right now that look and say, ‘Boy, what happened? All of a sudden, college football changed and we got left by the wayside.’ ”
Each year, two of the bowls will host playoff semifinals before another site hosts the championship game. The semifinal games will be similar to a one-week BCS bowl experience, with the stakes being even more meaningful: a trip to the title game.
The championship games will be short, intense business trips for the competing teams and will be bid on by local organizing committees throughout the nation. The College Football Playoff organization would run the title game, just as the NFL runs the Super Bowl.
The Orange Bowl has already learned it will host semifinal games on Dec. 31 in 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2024. The other eight years, it will have its regular Orange Bowl game with the highest-ranked Atlantic Coast Conference team not already playing in a semifinal facing a highly ranked team from the Southeastern Conference, Big 10 or Notre Dame.
Orange Bowl executive director Eric Poms called the bowl’s selection as one of the elite six “a great conclusion. It keeps us relevant and part of the road to the college football championship game."
Being on the road to the title game was paramount to the future of the Orange Bowl, which was founded in 1935 to promote tourism and economic development. Now the Orange Bowl Committee, which takes the lead on the South Florida organizing effort, is intent on winning one of the championship games in the eight years the bowl isn’t hosting a semifinal.
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock recently announced that Arizona, led by the same group that puts on the Fiesta Bowl, was selected to host the Jan. 11, 2016, title game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Tampa Bay was selected to host the Jan. 9, 2017 game at Raymond James Stadium. The inaugural game, on Jan. 12, 2015, was previously announced for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
South Florida bid for the 2017 game but is expected to be part of the next bidding process a year from this spring.
“We wanted to give more fans in more cities an opportunity to participate in this game," Hancock said this week. “The fact is that Miami just had [a national championship] in 2013."
And what a matchup it was.
Last year’s BCS National Championship game at Sun Life Stadium between Alabama and Notre Dame was one of the most celebrated in years and brought two of the nation’s most rabid fan bases pouring into South Florida for what turned out to be the Crimson Tide’s second consecutive national title.
At least 50,000 fans filled South Beach on each of the weekend nights before the game for a festival that included pep rallies, concerts, interactive games and a variety of outdoor activities — all under sunny skies and balmy breezes while the rest of the nation shivered.
That title game plus the Orange Bowl game between Florida State and Northern Illinois the week before brought $298 million in economic impact and added media value for South Florida, according to a study conducted by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International.
South Florida’s upcoming bids, which will continue to encompass partnership from the Miami Dolphins and Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, are expected to get a longer look when more time passes.
“We’re very optimistic," Poms said, “and very appreciative of being included. We feel confident we’ll be competitive."
Hancock said last month that South Florida’s recent bid was strong, though he did mention hotel rates being higher than some of the other cities and the “footprints" of some of the other bids being “a little bit more concise."
Earlier this week, Hancock said the playoff group wants to “sit back and watch what happens in the stadium world and with our event" in the next year and a half.
“What South Florida offers is tremendous for visitors," Hancock said. “When you go to an Orange Bowl event, you know it is going to be administered tremendously. And as I mentioned the other day, the stadium was not a negative factor."
Nicki Grossman, who heads the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Miami-Dade tourism director Bill Talbert believe strongly the Orange Bowl will be awarded one of the top games. Grossman joked last year that “virtually every Catholic in America is praying for Notre Dame, and we’re happy to accommodate them all."
This week, she said more than 200 hotels in Greater Fort Lauderdale have been sold out from Christmas through Jan. 5, and that the economic impact is expected to be about $80 million.
“National championship or not, this Orange Bowl game has created a buzz."
Venables, the Clemson defensive coordinator, believes it’s a foregone conclusion that South Florida will get at least one national title game in the next 12 years.
“It’s a matter of time," he said. “The hospitality here is as good as I’ve seen. They have everything: weather, location, support, tradition, major sports teams, things to do — and all the bling that goes along.”
“Let’s face it, that’s what it’s about.”