CLEARWATER, Fla. — Diane Ross fired the text message to her daughter expecting an ugly response. She got one.
Ross had it coming. She was one of the thousands of Iowa fans who descended on Clearwater Beach on Monday for the Outback Bowl’s Beach Day.
Ross had sand between her toes, a beer in her hand and sunlight leaping off her brown hair.
And her daughter back in Des Moines, Iowa?
“They’re having a blizzard,” Ross said, laughing.
Two days before Iowa (8-4) meets No. 14 LSU (9-3) in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., fans of the teams swarmed a white, sandy beach for a pep-rally in Clearwater, a seaside city about 30 miles west of Tampa.
One set of fans stood out.
“Everywhere you look,” said Scott Gremillion, a Baton Rouge bar owner, “it’s black and gold.”
Iowa fans outnumbered those donning LSU colors more than 10 fold at the final team bowl event before Wednesday’s game.
More than 2,000 Iowa fans were at Beach Day, an 18-year-old Outback event that included each team’s band and cheerleaders and brief appearances from members of the competing programs.
Players from both teams were on hand. Iowa brought nearly its entire team, while just a handful of LSU players showed.
Surrounded by security detail, each coach arrived and briefly spoke from a makeshift beach stage in front of a circle of fans — most of them from above the Mason-Dixon Line.
They traded snow-covered yards and below-zero temperatures for sandy beaches and 75-degree ocean breezes.
“When we left,” said Melody Morris, steadying a bloody mary in one hand, “it was 22 degrees.”
Parts of Iowa received more than 3 inches of snow Monday, and temperatures hovered in the single digits.
So, yes, 81-year-old Bob Morris, of Solon, Iowa, was happy to be here.
Morris was born on the day before Christmas in Keewatin, Minn., about 30 miles from the Canada border.
“It was minus-30 the day I was born,” Morris said, he too swirling a bloody mary and leaning on a metal cane, donning shorts and a short-sleeve shirt.
The Morrises are here for reasons outside of escaping the cold.
Bob Morris is the grandfather of Iowa linebacker James Morris, an All-Big Ten senior star on the Hawkeyes’ seventh-ranked defense.
“We all had to come for James’ last collegiate game,” said Maurene Kinney, Bob’s daughter and James’ aunt.
Kinney drove from San Antonio with her two children and husband, a 17-hour haul, she said.
Most of the black-and-gold wearing Iowa fans made a much different journey.
Ross was part of a caravan of three cars, a total of 15 people, who drove from Des Moines to Tampa.
The total trip time: 24 hours.
The group stayed Saturday night in Atlanta to split up the drive. They ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic in the rain outside of the city Sunday.
“Horrible,” Ross said.
That same day, two Iowa fans were killed in a car accident in Georgia en route to Tampa, according to The Associated Press.
It’s unclear exactly how many fans attended Beach Day.
Terry Schmidt, the event’s producer, said they expected 5,000.
Tiki huts with food and alcohol dotted the swath of beach fronting the Hilton Beach Resort and Hotel, where, coincidentally, the Golden Band from Tigerland is staying.
Schmidt has been producer of Beach Day for 18 years.
It’s normal, he said, for fans from the Big Ten to outnumber those from the Southeastern Conference.
After all, Schmidt said, “They want to get out of the cold.”