Roadtripper: A guide to the Outback Bowl

Matt Forman

The Wildcats will be playing in their eighth bowl game, going for their first postseason win since a 20-14 Rose Bowl victory over California in 1949. But the bowl experience is about much more than the game. For a week leading up to the New Year’s contest, fans can join the team at various events in and around the city. First, you’ve got to learn about the basics of the game. Then, you can learn about the other ways to have fun.The game: Outback BowlLocation: Tampa, Fla.Time: Jan. 1, 2010 at 10 a.m. CTTV: ESPNPayout: $3.3 million, minimumTickets: Available, $70 through NorthwesternQuick Hit: In the 23-year history of the Outback Bowl, the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference have had tie-ins since 1996. The third picks from each conference have faced off against each other, though BCS bowls have thrown a twist in the picking process. Against Auburn, Northwestern looks to cut the series deficit to one game: The SEC holds an 8-6 all-time advantage.The stadium:Raymond James StadiumCapacity: 65,657Built: 1998Surface: GrassQuick Hit: Nicknamed “The Ray Jay” or “The New Sombrero,” Raymond James Stadium is one of the most distinctive venues in football, hosting a 103-by-78-foot replica pirate shop behind one of the end zones. The ship’s canons fire the equivalent of the number of points scored on any given play, and a talking parrot perched on the stern of the boat talks to passersby. The stadium has also been named one of the best in football, hosting the Super Bowl twice in the last 10 years.The opponent:Auburn TigersRecord: 7-5Coach: Gene Chizik, 1st seasonMascot: Aubie the TigerFight Song: War EagleQuick Hit: Auburn is one of the most storied programs in the history of college football, donning the burnt orange and navy since 1892. The Tigers have the 13th-most wins in the sport’s history and were a perennial top-25 team during the middle part of the last decade, but the team fell off during Tommy Tuberville’s last few years. The school has produced several well-known running backs, including Bo Jackson. More recently Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams and Brandon Jacobs have starred in the NFL.Bowl Schedule:Dec. 26 – Both teams arrive in Tampa and check into their hotels. NU will be staying at the Westin Tampa Harbour Island hotel in downtown. Later that night, the teams will feast on Outback Steakhouse food and attend a Tampa Bay Lightning game. Dec. 27 – After morning practices, both teams will visit St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. NU will be practicing at Jefferson High School throughout its preparation for Auburn.Dec. 28 – The teams will hold morning practices and check out Busch Gardens theme park in the afternoon.Dec. 29 – After player interviews and the team luncheon, both teams will practice in the afternoon. Then, at night, the teams will attend GameWorks in Ybor City from 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Dec. 30 – The teams will spend the afternoon on Clearwater Beach, one of the nation’s finest gulf beaches, after practicing in the morning. Dec. 31 – Bands from each school will participate in the New Year’s Eve Parade in Tampa’s Historic Latin district. The teams will hold a pep rally at 7 p.m.Jan. 1 – Parking lots for tailgating will open at 8 a.m., where the pre-game bowl bash with bands and cheerleaders from each team will take place. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m.Other things to do:1) Lowry Park Zoo – The family-friendly zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals. Zoo-goers will have a chance to feed giraffes or take a ride on water slides. The zoo is about 10 minutes from Raymond James Stadium. 2) The Florida Aquarium – Housed in a huge atrium, this kid-friendly aquarium features more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals. Attendees can “swim with the fishes” or “dive with the sharks” in two exhibits, or take a ride on an Ecotour around the bay. The aquarium is roughly 15 minutes from the stadium.3) Golfing – With more than 20 courses within an hour drive from downtown Tampa, make sure to bring your clubs to hit the links. Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla., and Westchase Golf Club in Tampa earn rave reviews for long and narrow fairways and smooth and fast greens.Places to eat:1) Outback Steakhouse – How could you not make a trip to bowl’s title sponsor? There are three steakhouses in downtown Tampa and seven total within a 20-mile radius, so no matter where you are in the city, there’s always an Outback nearby. Fan favorites on the menu include the Bloomin’ Onion, Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie, Aussie Cheese Fries, Walhalla Pasta and The Melbourne, a 20-ounce steak.2) Bern’s Steak House – If you’re in more of the turf than surf mood in Florida, check out Bern’s for fine dining. The restaurant offers fine wines and spirits, as well. George W. Bush thought Bern’s was so good he went twice during his presidency.3) Frenchy’s – When you’re at Clearwater Beach, don’t forget to stop by the home of the “world famous” Grouper Sandwich. Frenchy’s has four locations, including one on the beach and another on the sightly beach walk. Frenchy’s is a laid-back picnic table-like bar setting.4) Green Iguana Bar and Grill – With live music every night, the Green Iguana is the place to be for a hopping nighttime experience. With six restaurants in the greater Tampa area, there are several Green Iguana’s to frequent. The casual dining atmosphere offers award-winning burgers and wraps, among other things.

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