The news came on the TV in the Orlando hotel suite. After winning two national titles in five years, Urban Meyer was resigning as Florida’s football coach.
Everybody was stunned that stress had driven a 45-year-old man to the hospital and then into early (if temporary) retirement. Then an 84-year-old man provided some perspective.
“He talked about the coaching profession and how it grinds on you,” Kevin Rinker said. “Just to sit there and hear him talk. That’s the kind of thing you don’t get if you’re a member of the Kiwanis Club.
” You might if you’re a member of Florida Citrus Sports. The old man in this case was Joe Paterno. Before his career ended in controversy, who better to hear bandy about Meyer’s retirement than the universally-revered JoePa?
Rinker had a front-row seat because he was on the Big Ten host committee for the Capital One Bowl. Nothing against the fine work done by the Kiwanis, Elks, Sons of Italy and Daughters of the American Revolution. But when it comes to service organizations, there’s nothing quite like the FCS.
“There are not a lot of times a corporate guy can run out on a football field with 70,000 people screaming,” Rinker said.
It would make a nice recruiting poster for any service organization, all of which are only as good as the members they attract. FCS offers the usual lures like making friends, establishing business contacts and raising money for charity. But as the Army recruiting poster used to say, “It’s not a job. It’s an adventure.”
Actually, it’s not even a job since members volunteer their time. And unless you’ve been one, it’s hard to appreciate how much time goes into organizing a halftime show, mini-golf tournament, press box, parade or even a bus trip to Disney World.
“People don’t realize the logistics of just moving from Point A to Point B,” Vonn Howard said.
You didn’t think 400 people with musical instruments just show up at Winter Park for a concert every year, did you? Much less know where in Orlando to find 100-yard fields with hash-marks to practice on.
Howard’s on the Team Support Committee and specializes in getting bands from point to point. He joined FCS a half-dozen years ago when Eric Gray, and old friend from Young Junior High in Tampa, gave him a recruiting call. They’d both played the trumpet in the school band, so Gray knew Howard would appreciate the nuances of the job.
It’s not just for the Capital One and Russell Athletic bowls. Volunteers also help with Florida Classic and other games and events on the FCS calendar. That’s allowed Howard, the reigning FCS Volunteer of the Year to become even more of musical connoisseur. He’s become especially fond of Big Ten bands.
“They party,” Howard said. “I don’t mean that in a typical college sense. I just mean their band regimen is all about being very technically proficient.
“They also have a sense of pride in what they’re doing. It’s obvious they get a lot out of it. They enjoy the fact they work hard for the product they put on the field.”
Ah yes, putting the product on the field. That includes players, coaches, cheerleaders, mascots, beauty queens and assorted VIPs, technicians, parachutists, pyrotechnics and God knows what else.
The finished products are pregame and halftime shows that are timed to the second. Unless a tuba player faints from the heat, which happened just before Ohio State was set to perform its “Script Ohio” routine one year. Then there was the time the fireworks got a little out hand and damaged some instruments.
That might have been 1996, when the Buckeyes played Tennessee. Terri Bernhardt was on the Pageantry and Presentation Committee and remembers getting orders that under no circumstances were fireworks to explode when Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George ran out of the tunnel.
It wasn’t that George was scared of loud noises. The smoke might engulf him and ruin the TV shot. Luckily, the fireworks cooperated, which was more than could be said for the weather.
The Citrus Bowl field was natural grass back then, and it might have turned to natural mush if the pregame show had gone as planned. FCS higher-ups decided to cancel the performance, and Bernhardt had the sad task of delivering the news.
“We had 1,000 cheerleaders crying,” she said. “Oh gosh, it was awful. They’d worked so hard and come from all over America.”
The mascara flow alone could have drowned Peyton Manning. Bernhardt was as disappointed as the cheerleaders, since the ultimate goal is to send everybody home with good memories of Orlando.
That’s why Rinker basically becomes a concierge for a couple of weeks every December. He meets teams at the airport, lines up restaurants, handles hotel problems, oversees practices and press conferences and get to do it all with a police escort.
Along the way, he’s gotten an insider’s view of famous people and memorable events. When Michigan upset Florida 41-35 in 2008, he was in the Wolverines’ locker room when Lloyd Carr said a tearful goodbye to his team.
Rinker’s gotten to know Steve Spurrier’s family so well that Jerri Spurrier sends him a Christmas card every year. He saw how Paterno would dote on his grandchildren and listened as JoePa discussed just about everything except football.
“We’d sit there for an hour or two and talk about infrastructure in China or the Greek political system in Biblical times,” Rinker said. “It was really interesting.”
It’s the kind of experience money can’t buy. But when you get a volunteer job with FCS, you never know what adventures lie ahead.