EagleBank Bowl Week Begins
Author's note: Over the next four days, I will be checking in frequently from the EagleBank Bowl and its assorted festivities. I've never been to a college bowl before, nor have I ever seen a football game in RFK, nor have I ever experienced the electricity of a pre-bowl Wake Forest alumni party at Gordon Biersch. This week, everything changes.
Twenty minutes before the Naval Academy buses pulled up to the Mayflower Hotel to kick off the inaugural EagleBank Bowl Week, the pianist in the lobby began playing "Let It Snow."
That's right, it's now officially bowl season. Think swaying palm trees, late-night dips in the grotto pool and a biting rain darkening the post-rush hour streets of downtown Washington.
"In Annapolis, the wind is so bad," quarterback Jarod Bryant observed while the Midshipmen waited for the introductory press conference to begin. "It's not quite as windy [in Washington], which means it's a little bit warmer."
That's the spirit. Heck, it's downright tropical in the District compared with Annapolis, where the Midshipmen will practice all week. And, weather aside, optimistic players said that this week started off pretty similarly to their previous bowl experiences in, say, San Diego. The gift bags were stocked with electronic goodies and football chic: a portable DVD player, a GPS navigational device, a leather garment bag, a lettermen's jacket.
"Free gifts," quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada said. "Who's gonna complain about anything?"
The hotel doorway was surrounded by well-wishers, from a few Navy fans to bowl staffers to random commuters to the Langley High School dance team, dressed in their warmups, unfortunately colored Wake Forest gold and black.
There were festive balloons, and a large festive inflatable Navy football player, which a festive staffer festively pushed back into place after the wind knocked him in front of the buses' doors.
The press conference buffet had designer chocolates, creme-stuffed pastries and a vat of melted chocolate; "so weird," Kaheaku-Enhada said as a teammate ate a slice of baguette lathered in chocolate.
The game room was filled with the latest in virtual entertainment, including a Guitar Hero/Rock Band setup that distracted defensive end Billy Yarborough and long snapper Chad Peterson from beginning their first night of freedom during their longest "road" trip of the year.
"At the Naval Academy we get cooped up all the time, I guess I'm used to it," Yarborough said while pounding out Weezer's "Say It Ain't So."
"Concentrate, Billy, concentrate," Peterson scolded. "Don't lose focus."
Just behind the drum kit stood the men handing out the Midshipmen's per diem, in small envelopes. The anticipation was palpable.
"I think when we were in San Diego they gave us like 50 cents or something," wide receiver Tyree Barnes said before receiving his $100 cash, in five twenties. "I think we went straight to Hooters. We'll probably do the same thing here, we'll look for a Hooters real quick. Hooters attracts football players, I guess. The whole bus ride here, everyone was saying, 'Are we going to Hooters, are we going to Hooters?' I guess Hooters is gong to get that per diem."
Not everyone was rushing out to spend. Bryant, for example, went straight to his room, changing into his service dress blues in preparation for a night out with his sister, who works at the White House.
"We're actually going to the vice president's house to eat or something," the quarterback said.
See, those are the kind of things you can only do in Washington, a place many of these players hadn't visited for, literally, days.
"Last weekend," guard Anthony Gaskins said. "Fur nightclub. It'll be a little different seeing the tourist side."
I pointed out that Fur didn't seem to be on the bowl's tourism schedule.
"It should be," Gaskins said. "They should add it."
Kaheaku-Enhada's girlfriend lives in the District, as does Bryant's sister. But during this visit, the players received a police escort as they rolled down New York Avenue. And so how was this epic journey from school to bowl?
"It was a long one, real exhausting," Gaskins said with a smile. "We were going to fire up a movie, but we didn't really have the time."
Wake Forest arrives on Wednesday.
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