Bowl volunteers greet Gators' Arizona arrival


Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 10:27 p.m.

PHOENIX — Color the first day of Florida's bowl week in the desert, well, not sure what color you'd pick.

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TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun

Florida's football team discovered that on arrival at the Sky Harbor airport Tuesday afternoon as the Gators were greeted by about 60 people in pale yellow jackets, a dozen or so outlandish sweaters that contained every color in the rainbow and some that appeared to be invented, volunteers waving orange and blue shakers and an occasional blue Gator cap.

This is the way you are introduced to the Fiesta Bowl people who are putting on the BCS National Title Game as well as the Fiesta and Insight Bowls.

"We were here a couple of years ago (with Utah) so we knew the hospitality of these people," said Florida coach Urban Meyer, who held a brief news conference in a large tent on the tarmac of the executive airport runway while jet engines roared in the background.

For Meyer and his family, this seemed all too familiar. For Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, it's even more of a feeling of deja vu.

This Ohio State's fourth appearance in five years in Phoenix or Scottsdale or Glendale, whatever you want to call it. (The teams are housed in Scottsdale, the game is Glendale and the airport is in Phoenix. Ohio State played three of those games in Tempe. Confused?)

"There's mountains everywhere and to me they all look the same," Tressel said. "So I don't know my way around at all. I don't know which is north, south, east or west. I don't know where anything is because they take you everywhere."

Ohio State fans know the way to Arizona like it was a road trip to Iowa.

"How can you be burned out coming to paradise?" Tressel said. "I think you'll find out (about our fans) because they'll show up."

Tressel and his team received a similar welcome across town, but not to the area. They've been here since Dec. 30 so their reception was a welcome to their new hotel. Tressel brought the team out early because he said he didn't see the point in reconvening in Columbus, Ohio, after the Christmas break and then traveling again to Arizona a couple of days later.

So Ohio State bunkered in a hotel on an Indian reservation until Tuesday and practiced on a different high school field the first three days.

"Our young guys who have been here a couple of times have a comfort level," Tressel said.

But this was all new to the Gators. This is not the Outback Bowl where Florida has made its winter home three of the last four years.

If there was any doubt that this is something completely different, the players found out as they walked through a gauntlet of Fiesta Bowl volunteers, shaking hands and finding their coats and shirts plastered with Fiesta stickers as they emerged from a sea of people who don't know Tim Tebow from Tiny Tim.

There were exceptions, of course, and a few hugs between Meyer and members of the Fiesta staff who built a relationship with the Florida coach two years ago.

"This is so wonderful," said Shelley Meyer as she watched the players with big smiles on their faces.

In the shadow of Camelback Mountain or Mummy Mountain or some other mountain, the Gators checked into their dream come true. Jarvis Moss wore a fur-lined parka, apparently not aware that it's 70 degrees and beautiful.

"You don't need that here," a yellow jacket told him.

"I know," Moss said with a smile.

They were serenaded by a mariachi band and greeted by the Fiesta Bowl queen and her court, like so many pulling double duty for this guinea pig of a BCS model.

And Meyer, finally, didn't have to answer questions about whether it should be Michigan instead of Florida enjoying Tostitos Scoops and salsa. The Wolverines took care of that in the Rose Bowl.

Meyer did blow off the one question he was asked about Michigan, but Tressel addressed the issue.

"Florida earned its way to this game," he said. "I don't think it had anything to do with the Rose Bowl."

Both coaches, in their respective news conference, were asked about Boise State's thrilling win in the Fiesta Bowl the night before. Tressel said he watched the end of the game, which many of the Buckeyes attended. Meyer didn't.

"I hate to say it, but I kept falling asleep," he said. "My wife kept hitting me, trying to wake me up. She said it was the best game she'd ever seen."

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com.

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