Florida (Sports) Man

Ending 2022 (and starting 2023) in the Sunshine State

Florida Man takes a lot of grief. But there’s something to be said about 70-degree days in late December.

For the past few years, I have taught courses at the University of Notre Dame’s business school. When the Irish finished the year 8-4, we were hoping the bowl game would be somewhere warm. They drew the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. As such, the family decided to make a vacation of it, and headed down to Florida (NOT on Southwest), stationing ourselves in Orlando for some theme park and sporting event action.

First Stop: Orlando’s Camping World Stadium

First sporting stop was the Cheez-It Bowl between Florida State and Oklahoma. This was my first visit to Camping World Stadium. Considering it was first built in 1936 (albeit with many renovations since) and that it lacks a permanent tenant (excluding the XFL), it’s not a bad facility. It was less basic than many college stadiums, and the concessions in the lower bowl and club areas were surprisingly solid.

The venue is just north of Orlando’s downtown in a bit of a dodgy area. We parked less than a mile away for $10 and hoped the rental car would still be there. Managed to hit two breweries, Broken Strings and Deadwords Brewing, before the game.

The game felt like a home game for the Seminoles, and the crowd left happy after a 35-32 barnburner.

As an aside, given that Cheez-It was the sponsor, fans had access to free packs of crackers throughout the stadium. I would have consumed fewer calories by sucking back 10 Miller Lites! Damn free addictive snacks.

Camping World Stadium
Florida Man hits downtown Orlando first

Next Up: The Gator Bowl

The Jaguar’s TIAA Bank Field hosted the Gator Bowl between South Carolina and Notre Dame. With this visit, my total number of unique MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA or NCAA football venues hit 62 for 2022!

Made a quick stop for a brew and a bite at Kickbacks Gastropub about 4 miles away, then drove and parked less than a mile west of the stadium before enjoying Fan Fest and all the pregame festivities. We would have made a stop at the only decent pregame watering hole near the stadium, Intuition Ale Works, but the lack of pregame options combined with Notre Dame fans’ love of the drink, and South Carolina fans’ enthusiasm and party spirit meant there was a line out the door.

Once inside, we were treated to one of the best games of the year with the Irish overcoming a large deficit and partisan Gamecock crowd. By the way, a quick shout out to the Gamecock fan base; given the relative mediocrity of the football team lately, they are devoted and loud!

Gator Bowl
The main attraction was the Gator Bowl

New Years Afternoon in a Tampa Ice Rink

Next stop was a hockey game in Tampa. You can take the boy out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the boy.

I’ve been to Amalie Arena more than all but a handful of current venues and think it’s really fun. I was excited to bring my son for his first visit. Alas, it was a rainy afternoon, so Thunder Alley lacked the usual pregame buzz.

Once inside, the rink didn’t disappoint and we were treated to an exciting 5-3 hockey game in front of a full house, while catching the crazy TCU-Michigan game on our phones.

Amalie Arena
A winter sports trip is incomplete without a hockey game.

Bring In the New Year With More Football!!

Final stop was the game at Raymond James Stadium between the Bucs and Panthers to decide the NFC South. After a little tailgating in the grass parking lots, we went in to our wonderful seats. Carolina had a 14-point lead and an 11-point second half lead, but Tom Brady suddenly decided he was 28 again and lit it up to lead the team to a 30-24 victory for our fourth great game on the trip.

A Bucs game is always fun.

More Crowds Afterwards

After that, it was three days in overcrowded theme parks. If you wanted any proof that the pandemic is over, visit a Florida theme park over the Christmas-New Year’s break!

As I waited in seemingly endless lines to ride Space Mountain and Hagrid’s, I went to my happy place by plotting how I can see 63 venues in 2023.