The University of Wisconsin football team arrived in Miami on Sunday, six days before its first-ever appearance in the Orange Bowl.
Before the sixth-ranked Badgers take on No. 10 Miami at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, the State Journal sat down with Orange Bowl executive committee member Brad Houser to discuss UW’s traveling fan base, Miami’s home-field advantage and more.
WSJ: Is that always exciting, to have a first-time team in this game?
BH: Yeah, especially a team the caliber of Wisconsin. We’ve had our eye on Wisconsin for a number of years. We’ve made many trips up here during the football season to visit the school, and we’ve gotten to know the coaches and the people in the athletic director’s office. Have always wanted the opportunity to have Wisconsin in our game, due to the quality of the program, the traveling fan base. This is good. We’re very excited.
WSJ: Do bowl representatives really take notice of that, the way fans travel? I’m sure you watch other bowls and can see which fan bases are going to travel well.
BH: Oh, certainly. An example of Wisconsin, and we do our homework, back in 1994, the first Rose Bowl that Wisconsin went to under Coach Alvarez was like a sea of red. The Badger fan base is legendary for following their team and supporting their team. There are certain programs that are just very legendary, and a number of them are Big Ten teams.
WSJ: What makes this such a great bowl destination for fans?
BH: Two things that I really focus on, and I think I speak for the committee. Historically, going back for the 84-year history of the Orange Bowl, we’ve always promoted and emphasized the subtropical climate and the weather. It’s a real treat for northern teams to come down and enjoy the subtropical weather in Miami. You just don’t find that type of weather really anywhere else in the continental United States because it’s truly a subtropical climate. Gorgeous weather in the winter months. That coupled with the hospitality. We take great pride in the commitment that we have to make sure that the team, the traveling party, the fans alike have a first-rate experience in South Florida.
WSJ: This is an interesting scenario because Miami’s playing in its own stadium. How often does that happen?
BH: Going back years into the 90s and 80s, Miami played several national championship games in the old Orange Bowl Stadium. The last game that Miami played in the Orange Bowl was 2004. But I think there’s plenty of precedent outside of the Orange Bowl for teams that happened to play at their home stadium for a major bowl, like the Rose Bowl with UCLA. I believe Wisconsin has had the experience of playing UCLA in UCLA’s home stadium, and legend has it that the stadium was a lot more red than blue. I think the whole home-field issue is counterbalanced significantly by Wisconsin showing up and filing up a substantial portion of the stadium, which we believe they will.
WSJ: Have you ever had a situation where a team felt like they were at a disadvantage when playing Miami in the Orange Bowl?
BH: Perhaps. But we’ve had teams come into the Orange Bowl and beat Miami in what may have been perceived as a home game. We take great strides to make sure that the University of Miami will have a situation very comparable to the situation that Wisconsin will have as a traveling team. For instance, the Miami team, they won’t stay at home and eat home-cooked meals and sleep in their own beds. They’ll be in a hotel for the entire week, just like Wisconsin. They won’t practice on their home practice field. They’ll practice up at the Miami Dolphins practice facility. The locker room, for instance. Miami’s customary locker room out at the stadium, they won’t have access to their locker room. They’ll be put in a different locker room. We try to do things to make it as even-handed and fair as we possibly can. But at the end of the day, you’ve got Miami kids, many of whom went to high school in South Florida and their families are there. But we expect a lot of red in the stands, too.