Hoos in Miami: Cavalier Fans Come Together Before the Big Game

December 30, 2019 By Caroline Newman, news@virginia.edu Caroline Newman, news@virginia.edu

Miami might be more than 1,000 miles from Charlottesville, but by Monday the city was flooded with University of Virginia students, alumni and fans eager to celebrate their football team’s first appearance in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

Just as they do in Charlottesville before the start of each season, UVA fans painted the town orange as they set up shop around Hard Rock Stadium.

Some got a pretty early start, joining UVA President Jim Ryan for a pre-game run along the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk.

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Group photo of the individuals who joined President Jim Ryan with Palm trees in the background
A crowd of 100-plus joined in Ryan’s morning run, a three-mile route along the boardwalk. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Ryan’s runs have become a regular feature of life on Grounds, and they might even be a good luck charm – the president and many other Hoos jogged around Minneapolis before the men’s basketball team took home their national title in April.

Group of people dressed in Orange running on the boardwalk
Ryan’s runs have become a tradition at UVA and beyond. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Later, fans reconvened in the parking lots surrounding Hard Rock Stadium.

One dedicated group of tailgaters put together an impressive spread beneath three tents, showing their support for UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall with “Mendenhall’s Army” T-shirts and banners. The group convenes from across Virginia and the country for every home game, as well as many baseball, soccer, lacrosse and basketball games.

Group of people known as Mendenhall's Army gather together for a group photo
The “Mendenhall’s Army” tailgate, which supports football, basketball, baseball and many other UVA teams, had an impressive showing in Miami. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“I just love the direction the entire Athletics program is headed,” said fan Marcus Becks, who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area with his wife Inga. “I love the football team’s progress under Bronco, and the entire Athletics Master Plan, the new facilities, everything.”

Another fan in the group, Robbie Lawrence, had made Mendenhall a UVA-themed cornhole set; making good on a promise he made when the coach first arrived at UVA. If UVA beat Virginia Tech and made a bowl game Lawrence, who makes and sells cornhole sets, would give Mendenhall the best set he could muster.

“For me, it’s a way to give back what I can,” he said.

A few lots over, another group of tailgaters shared a special bond – most of their sons play for UVA. According to Marie Blount – mom of third-year player Joey Blount – the parents enjoy each other’s company just as much as their sons.

Group of parents gather together for a group photo
Parents and families of UVA football players have formed their own team of sorts, tailgating together before every game. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“Bronco and his staff are all about family, and it just feels like a big family,” she said. “Meeting these families has been the best part of this whole experience.”

“It feels like Bronco recruits families as well as players,” Veronica Delaney (mom of kicker Brian Delaney) said. “It’s fantastic.”

Child sitting in a chair looking at a screen that a healthcare worker is holding!
The face painting station was a big hit. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Parent Cindy Barrington was getting ready to watch her daughter Carolyn, a second-year student, perform with the Cavalier Marching Band.

“She loves it,” Barrington said, standing with Carolyn’s twin brother Nathan, also a second-year student. The family drove down from Chesapeake on Sunday.

“It’s been so much fun, and we have been so impressed with the family feeling the band creates,” she said. “They do so much together.”

UVA fans at a table picking up blue and orange beads
There was no shortage of orange and blue, as UVA fans and Florida fans decked themselves out. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

First-year student Ellie McGovern, from Martinsville, said that the football team’s success had made her first year at UVA even more memorable.

“It’s been so much fun,” she said. Reflecting on her first semester, she said students’ passion stood out, on and off the field.

“Everyone is so passionate about what they are studying, and the professors are passionate about what they teach,” she said.

Les Wagner, right, and Elizabeth Brey, left stand together for a photo decked out in Blue and orange
Alumni and UVA parents Les Wagner and Elizabeth Brey brought a little holiday spirit to the festivities. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

For many UVA fans, the game offered the perfect opportunity for a reunion. Julie Phillips and Lisa Simpkins attended UVA together, graduating in 1993. Along with Darden School of Business alumnus Rich Hoyer, they shared football memories, including when UVA beat a ranked Clemson University in 1990 and a 2003 win over Virginia Tech – the last until November’s big rivalry win in Scott Stadium.

“It’s great to see the team’s progress, and we’re excited to be here,” Hoyer said. 

The fans weren’t the only ones having a good time. UVA football players had a chance to enjoy some bowl game perks in between practices, meetings and game preparation.

UVA football team sitting at a table with members of the Florida youth Football League
The UVA team had dinner with players from the Florida Youth Football League on Saturday before testing their skills on an array of arcade games. (Photo courtesy the Capital One Orange Bowl)

They were treated to team dinners and had a special Saturday outing to game emporium Dave & Buster’s to spend time with young athletes from the Florida Youth Football League and their families. The next day, they even got in a few hours of beach time, reveling in the warm December weather.

Quarterback Bryce Perkins playing a basketball arcade game
Quarterback Bryce Perkins looked pretty comfortable with a basketball in his hands. (Photo courtesy the Capital One Orange Bowl)

Even with all the fun, Mendenhall assured media that his players were focused and ready for their chance to take on the No. 9 Florida Gators Monday night. He repeatedly called the game “the next step” for the UVA program, which has been steadily improving under Mendenhall’s leadership. At 9-4, UVA has the opportunity to deliver the second 10-win season in program history Monday night, on the biggest stage Mendenhall and his players have seen so far.

Bronco Mendenhall, left, and Dan Mullen, right pose next to a glass bowl of oranges while each holding 1 orange
UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall, left, and Florida head coach Dan Mullen pose for a photo with the bowl’s signature fruit. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“It is an absolutely tangible and realistic step for the advancement of our program,” Mendenhall said when the team arrived Thursday night. “It’s a little surreal right now, but acknowledging the journey we have been on and how hard our players have worked, this is the next step for our program and we can’t wait to capitalize and do our very best.”

Perkins, who will be playing his final game at UVA, said he and his teammates have enjoyed the ride.

“We definitely took our time to reflect and enjoy the moment, and enjoy the progress of the program,” Perkins said.

But now, he said, it’s game time.

“Our mindset is dead serious,” he said. “We know what we have to do, and we know how to do it to reach out goal.”