Here's some good Orange Bowl news: After several days of doing its always-popular imitation of North Dakota, Miami has reverted to its actual self. Temperatures soared from the 30s to the 70s on Wednesday, the makeshift igloos along South Beach melted, and the weather people (as opposed to the Weathermen, who had a lot to do with the temperature on campus back when I was a student) say the balm will hold through the game.
Speaking of the Weathermen, a guerrilla alternative to the official Stanford tailgate party at the Orange Bowl has developed. Toby the Van, who is to Stanford tailgating as the Tree is to the LSJUMB -- except without, so far, the arrests or ejections from the Alamo -- is coming to Miami.
And unlike the Tree, Toby the Van is not some anthropomorphic fantasy but an actual more-or-less working 1996 Ford Econoline, retrofitted not for Human Bio 10 lab work but full-bore tailgating.
"The full Toby tailgating setup includes a 10-by-15-foot canopy tent, a beer cooling system -- including a tap on the side of the van -- a full DJ stereo system that sets up externally, various chairs and tables, and a DirecTV dish that sits on the top of the van so you can watch games on a TV mounted on the side," says Brian Bird, one of Toby's helpers.
He was talking to me Wednesday afternoon from just outside Beaumont, Texas. Toby the Van set out from California on Dec. 26 and expects to arrive in Miami on New Year's Eve, leaving plenty of time to set up for a come-one-come-all tailgate in the Orange Bowl parking lot on game day. Price: Whatever contribution you want to make. Nobody leaves a Toby the Van tailgate hungry or sober just because they don't have any money.
Toby the Van was originally intended as a sort of cheesy satire. A group of season-ticket-holders that included Bird, fellow class of '03 alums Wade Gupta and Michael Hawkes, and lifelong Stanford fan Ryan Martino noticed vans disgorging hordes of children in the stadium parking lot last season and started joking about it.
"We thought it would be funny to get a van and use it for tailgating instead of carrying kids to soccer and the other stuff people use them for," Bird told me. But when they actually brought a van to this year's season opener against Sacramento State, the satire was quickly forgotten: A tailgate-superhero vehicle was just too much fun.
The van soon had a name in homage to a certain recent Stanford running back, as well as a growing following. From the 15 or so cronies at the Sac State game, Toby's guest list had swollen to over 100 by the season finale against Oregon State. More than that have already RSVPed for the Orange Bowl through Toby's Facebook page. (You can also follow Toby's adventures through his blog and Twitter feed.)
This is Toby's third road trip of the season, after the UCLA and Oregon games, and so far it's gone smoothly except for a couple of nervous moments over a clogged fuel line back in Wilcox, Arizona. (If you're ever in town, stop by the Auto Zone store and thank Mr. Gonzalez for speeding Toby on his way.)
"Toby's top speed is 75, which was a bit of a problem in Texas, where the speed limit seems to be 80," says Bird. "But we'll be there for the Orange Bowl.
So will Chris Owusu, it seems, who has missed half the season with injuries but is reportedly 100 percent ready for Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, just in case you've forgotten what it used to be like to be a Stanford football fan, here's a reminder of the bad old days. Hell, here's another one just for good measure. There's still time to buy tickets and come to Miami.
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