Sugar Bowl trip comes with limited festivities for Ohio State, Clemson football teams

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Quarterback Justin Fields, left, and other Ohio State football players leave media day at the Fiesta Bowl last year. Media day and other events were canceled for the Sugar Bowl this year.

If not for a global pandemic, Ohio State’s football team would be in New Orleans by now.

Mixed among practices and meetings ahead of the Sugar Bowl, there would be days of festivities for players ranging from dinners of Cajun and Creole food to tourist stops. Recent teams participating in the bowl game have visited the National World War II Museum or taken a Mississippi River cruise.

But the Buckeyes won’t arrive until New Year’s Eve, the day before their College Football Playoff semifinal rematch against Clemson.

After two coronavirus outbreaks over the final month of the regular season, they are limiting their potential exposure while on the road, prompting the shorter trip. In similar fashion, the Tigers traveled only a day ahead of them, arriving Wednesday.

“It's going to be more just like a game,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. “We're going to go down there the night before, get some rest, get to the hotel, wake up, get ourselves ready to go and then go play the game Friday night.”

Bowl trips are the latest loss for teams in a season played in a pandemic, following canceled games, empty stadiums and silenced marching band sections.

Clemson players organized a bingo night on Monday to replicate the camaraderie that stems from activities during bowl week.

On Christmas morning, Buckeyes brunched together at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and watched holiday movies.

But all of it is far more subdued than the events that often unfold at this time of year.

“One of those things that we're just going to have to sacrifice is the bowl experience,” Day said. “You think about it, it's kind of a downer because you would love to spend a week in New Orleans and all those things that come with a bowl game. That's part of the reward that's been taken from them this year.”

Some of it is due to the limited period of time between the conference championship games and the semifinals.

They were 21 days apart last December but only 13 this year, leading to less prep time for teams or bowl reps to stage activities.  

Still, scaled-back festivities were long in the forecast.

Jeff Hundley, the chief executive officer for the Sugar Bowl, said organizers spent much of the fall discussing various possibilities with conference commissioners before determining that teams were likely to come only a day or two before the game.

“We really wrestled and had a good degree of heartache over the fact that we weren't able to do something for the players and coaches to give them a truly Sugar Bowl experience,” Hundley said.

The situation for the Sugar Bowl has some similarities with the one that unfolded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, prompting the bowl game to relocate to Atlanta due to damage to the Superdome.

The organizers were unable to offer Georgia or West Virginia a taste of New Orleans, but Hundley pointed out they at least could act as traditional hosts.   

Teams still visited a Dave & Buster’s and dined at the Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão. The main difference was they were about 500 miles away.

Players from Ohio State and Clemson understood the change in plans. In 2020, just about every part of their schedules has been upended.

But Buckeyes center Josh Myers was still wistful for the traditional bowl week after taking part in the Fiesta and Rose bowls in previous years.

Without the surrounding pageantry, he said it doesn’t fully feel like they’re playing in a bowl game.

“It’s one of my favorite weeks every year,” Myers said. “As a team, we just have a blast. It’s super disappointing that we don’t get to this year.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman