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Official Review by Jim Folsom, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
New Year’s Day and college football just go together, much like Thanksgiving Day and the NFL or Memorial Day and auto racing. Nowhere is this truer than Florida, which hosts four New Year’s Day Bowl games -- three of which kick off between 12:00 and 1:00 in the afternoon. All three of these bowl games pit teams from the SEC against the teams from the Big Ten, which has created a sort of “Big Ten-SEC Challenge” element to the games.
The biggest of the three games is the Capital One Bowl, held in Orlando’s Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. This is the original Big Ten-SEC bowl matchup, and as such, this bowl gets first pick of the teams between the three games. The 2013 game featured the Georgia Bulldogs and Nebraska Cornhuskers, both of whom participated in their conference’s championship games.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Capital One Bowl has something for everyone's taste buds. You name it, they've got it. From pizza to barbecue to the normal burgers and dogs to Philly cheesesteaks, it's almost like being at the fair. Prices are typical for this kind of event, but not unexpectedly high. Also, unlike most college football games, beer is available for purchase. This may be a welcome sight to some fans.
The sun was out. It was 75 degrees at kickoff. There was tailgating all around, with vendors outside the stadium selling t-shirts and other team gear, food, and even scalpers with tickets so if you decided to attend at the last minute, you would have gotten in with no problem. The stadium's decoration made it look like a much newer facility. Mascots from several colleges were roaming the stands, and both schools brought their bands and cheerleaders. The national anthem singers were very good, there was a military flyover (T-38s) before the game. Country star Dierks Bentley also performed a mini-concert at halftime. This was a bowl game, and it felt like a bowl game. There were a few empty seats. Capacity is over 70,000 and there were just fewer than 60,000 in attendance. Considering this was a bowl game, one would hope for better attendance.
The neighborhood around the stadium is primarily residential and leaves a lot to be desired. Since this is a day game, it's not a huge deal. Fortunately, since the Orlando Magic's new arena is much closer to the stadium than the old arena, you can use the parking garages at the Amway Center to park and then catch a shuttle to the game. This is a convenient option. You can then take the bus back after the game and walk over to Church Street, where you will find many bars, restaurants and shops. This may be the nicest area in town outside of Disney.
60,000 fans on New Year's Day, all dressed in red in 75 degrees of sunshine. How are you going to beat that? The Nebraska fans sat on the press box side, as the Big Ten was designated the home team this year. The Georgia fans sat on the other side. Every time a big play happened --and there were many -- half of the stadium went wild. It would have been understandable for the UGA crowd to be a bit sparse, since they had to be disappointed to be in the game, but if you didn't know that they were about five yards from playing Notre Dame for the National Championship, you'd think the Capital One Bowl had been their goal all season. They were loud and proud and barking all day. Husker fans were what you would expect from perhaps the greatest fan base in college football. Though Nebraska struggled in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin, their fans showed up in Orlando and supported their team. This is especially impressive, considering they were in this same bowl game last year.
As was mentioned earlier, parking at the Amway Center is probably the easiest option. The GEICO Garage at the Amway Center charged $10 to park, but there are other options around the Amway Center. The free shuttles start several hours before the game and run all the way through the game before stopping over an hour after the final whistle. This was especially important for the 2013 game, considering the lots at the stadium were all sold out before the day of the game. It is probably best to skip parking at the stadium in favor of the shuttle service, unless you really want to tailgate.
I left my house at 10:30 and was in the the stadium by noon watching the Gator Bowl. I spent less than $60.00 (with gas and food included) on the whole day visiting from Daytona Beach, but I can imagine hotels in Orlando this time of year can be pricey. The prices for tickets were not terribly expensive for a New Year's Day bowl. These days, you can get tickets to an Orlando Magic game for about $5-$10 per ticket, which is among the best returns on investment in sports.
The stadium workers replaced the grass field a few years back with artificial "field turf". This made the field look gorgeous, compared to bowls past. The bowl holds eight high school state championship games and the Russell Athletic Bowl in the days leading up to the Capital One Bowl, but the field looked as if it had never been played on. This made for a better offensive game, and the score of 45-31 testified to this. Hats off to the stadium staff for the field surface. It was surprising that there was not a military fly-over in the pre-game, however.
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