Jan 13, 2014

Whitley Writes: Spending Holidays In Orlando Means Christmas Cheer For Bowl Players At Best Buy

At least one person is not going to be happy with the Capital One Bowl. He or she lives in the apartment next to South Carolina receiver Kane Whitehurst.

He left Orlando with a nice win and a killer subwoofer. It cost $600, most of which was picked up by the bowl. I’m no stereo expert, but I know that any speaker that cost more than my first car is capable of rattling the paint off the nearest wall.

“I won’t have really happy neighbors,” Whitehurst said.

Hopefully the neighbor is a Gamecocks fan and will find some hearing comfort in the 34-24 win over Wisconsin. South Carolina clinching its third straight 11-win season was the highlight of the trip for Steve Spurrier’s contingent. But not far behind was the annual Best Buy shopping spree.

The NCAA allows players to receive $550 worth of merchandise from bowls. It’s mostly sunglasses, luggage, watches and backpacks, though the Hyundai Sun Bowl also gives a Helen of Troy hairdryer. As handy as that might be on a bad hair day, nothing beats free electronics when you’re a college student.

“When you can spend $450 at Best Buy, you can’t complain,” receiver Bruce Ellington said.

Teams designate 125 people to receive the gift packages. With 35 bowls, that adds up to 8,750 people. That means bowls will have spent the gross domestic product of Belize ($4,812,500 if you’re counting at home) on this particular budget item.

That may strike you as an awful lot of goodies, but players deserve it for having strength coaches scream in their ears at 6 a.m. as they do another set of 500-pound squats. As entitled as they are to reward themselves, sometimes the Christmas spirit takes over.

Players buy goodies for family, friends, and even total strangers. Leading into last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum spotted three kids from the Bahamas wandering the Best Buy aisles. He put the headphones and DVDs he’d selected back on the shelves and told the boys to pick out anything they wanted.

They got a PlayStation 3 and a phone, then the Hokies’ Tariq Edwards and Marcus Davis pitched in to buy them some games for their new console. Exum took a picture of him with the boys and posted it on Twitter, and it turned him into a national social-media hero.

Speaking of which, this year’s unsung hero was Danyelle. She wouldn’t give her last name, but she was the Best Buy clerk in charge of packaging the merchandise. In order to keep players’ minds on the game and not their new woofers, South Carolina had them relinquish their bounty and have it shipped home.

Players took their purchases to Danyelle, who had taken over a room in the Home Theater department. She’d pack the stuff up, tape on an address label and generally move about 20 times faster than the average U.S. Postal Service employee in order to keep up with the incoming Xboxes. As she wiped sweat off her forehead, I asked Danielle how many boxes she’d filled.

“A bunch,” she said. “I can’t keep count any more.”

At least nobody bought a 60-inch TV. The most popular items were phone cases, chargers, Xboxes and Apple TVs, which are little boxes that let you see and hear everything on your Apple products on your television.

“This little thing right here cost $100!” Ellington laughed. “I’m down to $350 now.”

Sticker shock wears off fast, of course, when somebody else is picking up the tab. Everybody seemed to enjoy the one-hour excursion. After the first couple of minutes, the sight of 100 large young men in black sweats roaming the aisles was largely lost on the regular shopping crowd.

Well, one lady couldn’t resist asking Jadeveon Clowney for his autograph. Clowney would have written his name for free, but he didn’t get the chance.

“He’s not allowed to, mam,” said the state trooper who was guarding Clowney.

It’s not as if the 6-foot-6, 280-pounder couldn’t fend off 96-pound autograph seekers. It’s just standard operating procedure when you’re a potential No. 1 draft pick.

Clowney will soon be able to buy the entire store if he wants, but he was just like all his teammates at the store. So, what did the guy who will soon have everything get himself?

“An iPhone case and charger, an Apple TV and a waterproof boom box,” Clowney said.

A waterproof boom box?

“Yeah, something nice and simple,” he said.

Tell that to Danyelle, who by that point had sent an assistant in search of a bottle of water.

“This is exhausting,” she said. “I’m ready to go home.”

I told her to hang in there. As tough as the shopping spree was for her, the fallout is going to be much worse for Whitehurst’s neighbors.


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