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Football fans descend on Clearwater Beach despite chilly weather

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 07:50 PM
CLEARWATER -

Though there were far more sweatshirts than bathing suits on the beach Sunday afternoon, the chilly weather didn't stop college football fans from turning out to the Outback Bowl's Clearwater Beach Day.

Marching bands, cheerleaders, football players and coaches from the University of Michigan and the University of South Carolina mingled with a steady crowd of fans outside the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort.

Though the wind off the rolling waves made temperatures in the high 50s seem much colder to many of the bundled up party-goers, children kept warm by running around a large blow-up slide and listening to music.

"This beach isn't better than Myrtle Beach," said 7-year-old South Carolina native Cale Horton. "It's too cold."

Though Horton and most of the crowd filtered between shopping along the beachfront, playing in the sand and participating in the party's giveaways and contests, two events attracted crowd enthusiasm similar to what can be expected at the New Year's Day bowl game between the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten Conference teams: the tug of war and pie-eating contests.

If a game of tug-of-war between the teams' cheerleaders gives any clue about the outcome of Tuesday's game, Michigan is poised to leave the Gamecocks in the mud. The cheerleaders were so determined to win the title that they backed into their crowds of cheering supporters.

The results of the pie-eating contest tell a different story, though, with South Carolina's Ashton Holmes besting Michigan's Ben Braden, eating eight key lime pies to Braden's five.

"It's about aggression," South Carolina assistant coach Joe Connolly told players as they prepared for the contest. "How do you want to be remembered in front of all these people: as a loser or as a winner?"

As if watching the bowl game itself, fans cheered, booed and questioned the legality of the judges' rulings on cue.

For 12-year-old Cam Vincent of South Carolina, the results of the pie-eating contest reflected his belief that the Gamecocks "are gonna hit 'em."

"I grew up to be a Gamecocks fan," Vincent said, as he proudly tipped his Gamecocks baseball cap to show signatures from nearly every player on the team.

"You have to do what you have to do to support your home team … and the Gamecocks are just the best."

But to 11-year-old Connor Riley, the Wolverines is the team to beat.

"Mainly it's their tradition," he said. "If I want to go there and play football, I have to be smart and I have to start practicing now."

Riley's parents traveled from Michigan last week to participate in the week of events, such as a battle of the college marching bands at Busch Gardens and a New Year's Eve parade through Ybor City, leading up to the 27th-annual Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Regardless of the outcomes of the contests, local businesses counted Sunday's festivities as a win.

Matt Amlan, a salesman at Surfer Joes T-shirt shop, said the party drew the biggest crowd he has seen in the year he has worked at the beach and helped local businesses on what would normally be a slow day due to the cold weather.


adawson@tampatrib.com (727) 215-9851 Twitter: @adawsonTBO

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