College football's movable feast came to the Rose Bowl on Thursday. By 10 a.m., tailgating was in full flower. There were smoky breakfasts and hair-of-the-dog brunches, where
Florida State fans? Yes, there was a smattering.
No matter the team, fans screamed and they drank, paused to breathe, then screamed/drank some more. All agreed that a decent football program is an integral part of a sensuous education.
And amid the hollering and the hoopla, and the budding young libertines trying to craft scoring drives of their own, there was the sense of being part of something very special.
At first, it was as icy as an Eskimo wedding. But the California sun soon light-toasted the air; by game time the temperature was nearly 60.
In a tunnel, waiting to enter, Oregon fan Lynne Bath ran her fingers across the embossed roses on her game ticket. "It doesn't get much better," she said, a little dreamy-eyed. "This is so much fun."
The whole day was a bit dreamy, from start to rosy end. The first playoff game in major-college football history — in fact, the first-ever meeting between the two schools — quickly became one of those "where-would-you-rather-be?" moments.
"I left my family in Texas to come to this," Jack Bertolino said.
Presumably, he'll eventually return. But who can say?
"Best day ever," he said just as it was getting started.
Even rank newcomers appreciated what they were witnessing.
"This is the first Rose Bowl I've ever seen in my life, and I'm seeing it live," said Christian Wallace, from Montana, one of Bertolino's Marine Corps pals.
Bertolino, Wallace and fellow Marine Devin Moser stood smiling outside the north end of the Rose Bowl, bantering with other FSU fans, high-fiving, hooting, whooping, war-chanting — the entire Seminole vocabulary.
"We knew Oregon would be the home favorite," Wallace explained. "So we came here as an act of defiance."
To be sure, the Seminoles fans were at an almost shocking numerical disadvantage. Too many tailgaters on the field? You could've flagged Oregon.
Though there were copses of FSU fans here and there, the forest belonged to Oregon.
"We're so outnumbered," noted Ann Mitchell, who traveled from Tallahassee with her husband, Joe.
"You don't know how many people want to be here," Joe said. "Two years in a row is rough."
That's typical of far-off teams that come to Pasadena for two consecutive years, officials say. The average price for a ticket this week was $257, StubHub said, more affordable than last year's Michigan State-Stanford matchup, which didn't have nearly the cachet of Thursday's game.
Yet the majesty of the moment was not lost on the 91,322 in attendance. Programs for the historic game sold out an hour before kickoff, and souvenir lanyards were also in short supply.
Between beers and bites of marinated rib-eye, fans debated the merits of this Heisman-quarterback showdown. The consensus was that Marcus Mariota was the kind of dude you'd want for a son-in-law: "He's got a line of people's daughters who want to marry him," explained Duck fan Debbie McCulloch, of Sherwood, Ore.
Jameis Winston … well, he's just a kid, after all. But even the Seminoles fans acknowledged he can be an embarrassment.
"After Johnny Manziel and Winston, I really think we should never give the Heisman to a freshman ever again," said FSU fan Shannon Shea.
"Isn't integrity part of the Heisman?" asked Matt Harley.
Meanwhile, over at the FSU tailgate, a scrum of blond hair and good intentions, the tomahawk chop was in turbo mode. Amid more Ducks than a Disney cartoon, the Oregon mascot crossed a nearby pedestrian bridge just as fireworks went off.
Duck season? Hardly.
In lot 5B, Nick Aliotti, Oregon's defensive coordinator emeritus, arrived like royalty in a brand-new Tesla S. Nearby, scalpers hawked tickets at face value. Fans with Go-Pro cameras on the bills of their ball caps claimed to be making "a drunk-u-mentary."
Inside the stadium, fans jammed the concourses. "Let's go, Ducks!" rang out louder by the minute. A lost boy waited for his father at a customer service booth. A 'Noles fan did a spin move away from a snack stand and steadied her $14 beer.
And in the stands, filling as fast as an Oregon touchdown drive, Bill Mainwaring, 79, was all smiles as he was about to witness his fifth Rose Bowl, the first dating back to 1958.
I mean, where would you rather be?