Continuing a week-long look at the flavor of the EagleBank Bowl....
What's it like to play in a college football bowl? Ask the young men from Wake Forest, who this Saturday will set a school record by playing in their third consecutive bowl.
"You ever been on a trip for spring break, with all your guys?" asked tackle Joe Birdsong?
"And no girls?" added fullback Kevin Harris. "That's what this is like."
The Demon Deacons arrived in Washington this afternoon, meaning both teams from the inaugural EagleBank Bowl are now in the District. They were welcomed with a lunch buffet featuring some of Washington's most legendary treats, from Navajo fry breads to Coney Island hot dogs to freshly made smoothies, available in banana, strawberry, or banana-strawberry.
As they mingled, players said frankly that their preseason goals had included an ACC championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl rather than a morning date at RFK Stadium. But by the end of the year, their options had pretty much been winnowed to San Francisco, Boise and the District. Many thought a week in Northern California would be nice. Perhaps none pined after a trip to Idaho. But some had a definite preference for the District.
"For me personally, being a selfish [guy], I was happy to be back home," joked safety Chip Vaughn, who hails from Fairfax County and said he acted as the team's "unofficial ambassador" during today's bus ride into the city. "Like, 'Oh, what's that!'--that's just the Washington Monument," Vaughn offered as an example of his services.
See, while many Midshipmen visit D.C. with regularity, some Deacons had never been here, and others hadn't visited in years.
"Safety Patrol, fifth grade," said punter Sam Swank, describing his only previous visit. "I got to wear my orange fluorescent belt, so I felt pretty cool."
"Beautiful," said linebacker Matt Woodlief, describing his initial impressions of Washington. "What I've seen, it was gorgeous. I want to see the sights. I want to check out, what's it called, the ESPN Zone?"
Several players said they looked forward to their upcoming tour of the Capitol, although a trip to the Mall means many things to many people. "Where's the mall at?" one player asked in the hotel lobby. "Anyone know where Pentagon City is?
The organizers also played on the city's history during their introductory remarks, with bowl co-founder Marie Rudolph telling the Deacons that "we have a rich and storied history here, and you're adding to that history by playing the first-ever bowl game in Washington, D.C."
Some players hadn't heard of the EagleBank Bowl until relatively late in the season. Heck, some players hadn't heard of EagleBank; "I hope they don't have any bad assets, mortgage-backed securities," Birdsong deadpanned. And sure, some cynics have taken online shots at the EagleBank Bowl, pointing out that afghans are included in the player gift bags, but the organizers have a sense of humor about the whole thing.
"An afghan, a freaking afghan," snorted bowl president Steve Beck as he welcomed the Deacons. "It's not an afghan; it's a tailgate blanket."
Anyhow, it's hard to be cynical when you're eating classic D.C. chili with classic D.C. jalpeno cornbread and reflecting on the meaning of college football's wacky postseason.
"Any bowl's a good bowl, right?" Vaughn asked. "The more down time you have to spend with your friends, the more chances to get out and see the city you're in, that's gonna make the bowl week. It kind of doesn't matter what bowl game you go to, as long as that happens."
And if you get to experience another city's culture, so much the better. As Wake Forest's reception began, down the hall another meeting was kicking off: the plenary session of FEMA's Grant Program Directorate's national conference. Welcome to Washington, boys.
"It's like spring break," Harris said, revising his original description, "but all the women work for Homeland Security."