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    Outback Bowl

    As fans descend, the battles begin

    Bands lead the way in friendly competition and lots of fun as Outback Bowl excitement builds.

    [Times photos: Douglas Clifford]
    University of Florida cheerleaders Mike Maxim, 19, left and Nick Crowe, 21, lead their team in a tug of war against their University of Michigan counterparts.

    By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 30, 2002

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    CLEARWATER BEACH -- Forget the school logos and colors The easiest way to tell the Michigan fans from the Florida fans during the Outback Bowl Beach Day festivities Sunday on Clearwater Beach was by counting the layers of clothes.

    T-shirt and shorts, no shoes: Michigan fan.

    Sweat shirt and long pants: Florida fan.

    The reason is as simple as that shovel that sits atop the pile of coolers, stereos, televisions, generators and other "essential" tailgating supplies that Don Kolis and two friends hauled in his van for 19 hours from Michigan.

    Mark Hojnacki of Whiteford, Mich., celebrates his victory over a rival in the pie-eating contest. Hojnacki, 12, ate 15 small pies in two minutes.
    Kolis, 47, seems almost puzzled by the stupidity of the question when asked what the shovel is for.

    There's nearly a half-foot of snow on the ground back home, he explained. The van gets stuck, someone needs to dig it out.

    No wonder temperatures in the 60s seemed downright balmy to Kolis and the thousands who trekked from Michigan to Tampa Bay this week to watch the Outback Bowl football game on New Year's Day.

    "Look at this," said Dave Renaud, a 51-year-old dentist from the Detroit area, pointing to a cloudless blue sky.

    Did you know, he said, that Michigan is the fourth-cloudiest state in the country?

    Renaud's daughter, Michelle, plays saxophone in the Michigan marching band. Thirty years ago, Renaud played trombone for the Michigan band.

    On Sunday, the marching bands from Michigan and Florida faced each other on the beach for an informal battle of the bands.

    The Michigan band members were the ones in shorts. Florida's were the ones wearing jeans.

    Most of the several thousand onlookers Sunday were serious Michigan Wolverine fans. Like the Kolises.

    "That's my hobby, I go to Michigan games," said Don Kolis' brother Larry, a Michigan alumnus who flew down with his daughters and met Don. "When it's a love, you throw logic out."

    "They could definitely afford to fly," said Larry Kolis, 46. They drove, he said, because without a van, "you can't tailgate properly." They once mailed their supplies ahead -- 25 boxes.

    Aside from such staples as a five-foot television screen, two generators, a tent, two stereos and lots of coolers, there's also the Michigan good luck flowers and the Michigan teddy bear that Don Kolis' wife insists he bring to games.

    "We've done this before," said Don Kolis, also a Michigan alumnus.

    The Michigan 2002 Tailgate Program suggested as much. Aside from essential information such as where the Kolis' tailgate will be located in the parking lot, the program includes such useful bits as what to do if you are arrested.

    Out on the beach, the beer flowed, the bands played, burgers grilled and fans lined up to get their pictures taken in front of a sand sculpture made for the Outback Bowl.

    They weren't all from Michigan.

    Diane Duke, 53, there with her two sisters, has been a Gator fan since the 1960s.

    "We live and die with our Gators," said Duke, of Clearwater.

    They sported their Florida gear. But to brace against the chill, of course, the gear consisted of sweat shirts and sweat pants. Their dog, Chantal, a toy poodle, also was protected from the cold, with a Florida blue sweater.

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