Sports bar crowds lament loss

UF students Mike Reno, left, and Adam Stout watch Florida play Thursday at Gator's Dockside.

DARON DEAN/Special to The Sun
Published: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 10:56 p.m.

Maybe they should have called it the Breakfast Bowl.

An 11 a.m. kickoff is hardly prime time for football fans, especially the morning after New Year's Eve. But a lot of Gator fans managed to drag themselves out of bed and down to local sports bars in time to watch the promising start of the Outback Bowl.

Four hours later, after the University of Iowa Hawkeyes beat the University of Florida, some might have wished they had stayed in bed.

"It was hard enough for us to get up this morning," said Tom Mowery, who makes artificial limbs. "It started getting ugly about (the Gators') third possession."

He and his wife, Sara, a UF student, and friend Traci Wilson, visiting from Melbourne, were among the first customers at Gator's Dockside in Plaza Royale. They arrived about 10:15 Thursday morning, leaving the Mowery kids at home with a sitter.

By the third quarter, when the score was Iowa 27, Florida 10, the mood was subdued, almost glum, at theirs and other tables in front of three giant-screen TVs.

Soon a flash of hope burst across Dockside's lounge, bar and dining rooms, where about 150 patrons were watching the Outback Bowl on 17 of the establishment's 19 televisions (the others were showing the Georgia-Purdue game).

The almost exclusively Orange-and-Blue crowd hooted, howled and high-fived.

The Gators had scored, or so it seemed. Alas, a la the Florida State University game, officials ruled it was not a touchdown.

After Iowa scored again, there didn't appear to be a single person who obviously approved. But two tables from Mowery and friends, one fan was quietly delighting in the score.

"I came to see all the little Gators' sad faces," Nick Mitchell, a restaurant manager who lives in Starke, said as he picked at a plate of wings.

A Hawkeye? Not at all, Mitchell said. He's an FSU fan who roots for anyone who's playing the Gators.

"I'm coming back here tonight to watch FSU beat Miami," Mitchell said.

His friend, Stacy Lane of Gainesville, rooted for the Gators even as other patrons gave up hope and started drifting out of the bar before the fourth quarter began.

"I'm not giving up," said Lane, an assistant manager of a Citgo station. "You never give up hope. There's hope up until the last second."

Gator's Dockside manager Erik Einmo said they weren't selling many shooters during the game.

"When the Gators score, the fans usually do shooters to celebrate," Einmo said.

"Usually it's something called 'Sex with an Alligator,' a three-layer shot served in a martini glass."

Jackie Kerr, seated with husband Bob Kerr at the bar, said former Gator head coach Steve Spurrier was a lively topic of discussion during the game. On Tuesday, Spurrier resigned as head coach of the Washington Redskins.

"I think he's going to retire," she said.

"I would be surprised if he returned to coaching."

UF juniors Mike Reno and Adam Stout, both of Gainesville and both majoring in political science, rang in the new year until about 5:30 a.m. Thursday. But they made it to Dockside by the start of the Gator game.

They were making a day of it, they said, and were looking forward particularly to two other bowl games: Miami-FSU in the Orange Bowl and Michigan-Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

"Yeah, I'd like to see the No. 1 team play the No. 4 team for the national title," Reno said, a sarcastic reference to the controversial Rose Bowl matchup.

He and Stout would like to have seen another outcome for the UF-Iowa game. But they weren't crying in their beers.

"I think with (Gator quarterback) Chris Leak, (head coach Ron) Zook is going to play for a national championship in three years," Stout said.

By the closing minutes of the Outback Bowl, one of the two big-screen TVs at Kazbor's Sports Grille on NW 39th Avenue had been switched to the Georgia-Purdue game. Nearly full at the start of the Gator game, the crowd had thinned to a handful of faithful by its end.

Chuck Ebert and his son, Mickey, came to Kazbor's because they were without cable TV at home. Their roof is being replaced and the satellite dish had to be removed.

But Chuck Ebert said he often comes to Kazbor's for Sunday NFL games, and probably would have come Thursday even if they could get the game at home.

"Good food, good service and I like the big screens," he said as the final seconds of the Outback ticked off.

Kazbor's district manager Matt Zions bid the Eberts goodbye as they headed home, lamenting the outcome of the game. Then Zions and his staff prepared for the next wave of bowl watchers.

"We're anticipating a huge crowd for Miami-FSU," Zions said. "There's more at stake and at 8:30 at night, it's a lot more reasonable time."

Bob Arndorfer can be reached at 374-5042 or arndorb@

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