A crowd of more than 55,000 spectators rose in joined raucous celebration during halftime at the annual Outback Bowl Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium as U.S. Marines hit the field.
On a clear, sunny, warm Florida New Year’s Day tempered by a mild breeze, Marines representing alumni from both the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and University of South Carolina Gamecocks, local recruiting stations and color guard were introduced at the conclusion of the halftime festivities in appreciation for their service to the country.
The Marine Corps’ tradition with the Outback Bowl dates back seven years, honoring Marines from the representative schools, generating increased awareness and putting a public face on the Marine Corps each year.
“This event shows the Marine Corps’ human side and makes us accessible to (university and community) influencers, as well as the general public,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Milstead Jr., Marine Corps Recruiting Command’s commanding general. “Being able to reach out and touch a Marine sometimes means a lot to people who don’t see Marines regularly. Sometimes we underestimate the influence we have as Marines, just by being present; it makes people say ‘Wow!’”
“I believe the benefit (of this game) is in the exposure in the communities, as well as the national media audience,” said Capt. Thomas Eybl, a 2002 South Carolina criminal justice graduate now serving as the executive officer of Recruiting Station Columbia, S.C.
According to Milstead, the purpose of participating in events like the Outback Bowl, Gator Bowl, Nike Coaches of the Year clinics, NBA on TNT, NHL on NBC, and college sports on ESPN and the Big 10 Network is primarily awareness for an audience that shares many of the same values as the Marine Corps.
“The people associated with these types of events (playing or watching sports) are more likely to understand and embrace the concepts of teamwork and hard work to accomplish a goal or mission,” he said.
“Just like with the Outback Bowl, all of these events are designed to reach the students, as well as fans, and just putting the thought in their minds; ‘Maybe I should think about what the Marine Corps has to offer,’” he added.
The first opportunity for the Marines to interact with the Outback Bowl fans came the day prior to the game at the New Year’s Eve United Healthcare Children’s Foundation Outback Bowl Parade and Band Bash in Ybor City, Fla.
The Albany Marine Band, from Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., led the Marines down 7th Avenue, followed by the 6th Marine Corps District’s customized Hummer H3 and recruiters, as well as the alumni who were passing out mini foam footballs and dog tags to the crowd.
“The parade was my favorite part of the week,” said Milstead. “There was a definite electricity in the air. People just loved it. I got goose bumps when the Marine band stopped in front of our position and played the Marines’ Hymn.”
On New Year’s Day, Brig. Gen. Ronald Bailey, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Brigade and native of St. Augustine, Fla., conducted the official coin toss prior to kickoff, followed by Cpl. Jessica Bishop, MCRC Administration section, singing the National Anthem, which was the highlight of the pregame festivities.
“It was incredible! It was basically something that I only experienced in my dreams,” Bishop, a native of Dayton, Ohio, said about getting the opportunity to sing the National Anthem for such a large national event.
“Cpl. Bishop brought the house down. The place simply went crazy after she finished singing,” Milstead commented.
Bishop is familiar with singing in front of large crowds, but nothing like the Outback Bowl. “That was by far the largest crowd I have performed for. The fans were wonderful. I never felt more comfortable.”
From that point, most of the cheering came from the Iowa Hawkeyes’ sideline as they jumped to an early 21-0 first-half lead. That was until the alumni, Marine color guard and local recruiters returned to the field at the conclusion of the halftime show for the playing of “Grand Old Flag” by the bands performing on the field.
The game ended quietly as Iowa claimed the 2009 Outback Bowl title with a 31-10 victory over South Carolina, but the Marines’ presence was still felt throughout the stadium.
“It felt great (representing South Carolina), other than how the game turned out,” said Eybl. “Walking around the stadium before and after the halftime presentation, there was a very positive crowd response.”
The Marine Corps Recruiting Command will continue partnering with organizations such as the Outback Bowl to promote awareness of the Marine Corps and opportunities available for the most highly qualified young men and women the nation has to offer. Those who would like to learn more about the Marine Corps and are up for the challenge can visit www.Marines.com or call 1-800-Marines for more information.