You wouldn't have known that Cincinnati was expected to lose the Sugar Bowl if you had been to New Orleans last week. Yes, we were all aware that Florida was favored to win. Even I, with my near-complete ignorance of sports rankings, understood that Florida was playing at a level that UC just wasn't at yet, Brian Kelly or no Brian Kelly.
But secretly, we all were expecting to UC to beat the odds. In fact, we were all hoping for a victory so epic that Disney would have been knocking on doors at UC the next day to buy the movie rights, and had you been there, you'd have thought the same thing too.
Cincinnati definitely represented itself down in New Orleans. So many Cincinnatians showed up that on New Year's Eve, everywhere I went, I ran into old classmates, old co-workers and people I knew just from around Clifton. Throughout New Year's Eve, all along that miracle mile known as Bourbon Street, crowds were spontaneously breaking out into UC chants. Meanwhile, Gators fans seemed to sheepishly roam about trying to find a bar where they weren't severely outnumbered.
If the idea of us winning seemed like a nice thought to entertain on New Year's Eve, we expected it to be a reality on game day. At some of the Sugar Bowl events around town, like the pre-game party at the House of Blues, it looked like a Bearcats-only event. Gators fans were becoming more visible around town, but the comment I heard most often out of them was, "No seriously, where are all of our fans?"
I think even the residents of New Orleans were rooting for us. As a hotel employee put it, "More of you showed up, which means more of you brought money into our city." Hard to argue with that rationale.
As the afternoon rolled on, the Bearcats collected at the Marriott where the team was staying. The lobby was eventually unnavigable and by the time the team was boarding the bus, we had overflowed into the street.
When everybody was seated at the Superdome, it was clear how many more Bearcats than Gators showed up to the game. Our student section was completely saturated. I think we filled up about 3/4 of the top level, while the Gators took up less than half. It really looked like we might win this thing after all, (if this was determined by crowd support).
Then kickoff happened, reality set in and I don't want to talk about it.
After the game, I thought it was going to be a bad night. I thought that either the Bearcat fans would hide out in their hotel rooms too embarrassed to go back out, or everywhere we went, Gators fans would be rubbing their victory in our faces.
Instead, there was a sort of mutual respect among fans of the rival teams. We couldn't argue that they played a better game, but they couldn't deny that we made a better showing to support our team, especially considering how much farther we had to travel to get to the game.