Saturday, December 26, 2015

UConn fans find home away from home

Many of the 40 or so loyal UConn football fans arrived on Christmas night from Connecticut, Florida and even from the Midwest. Thanks to Ryan Phalen, part incredible passionate Huskymaniac and travel organizer, the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater became party central for the UConn fans not staying at the team's headquarters.

Shortly before 8 a.m. and about three hours before kickoff 14 of the 40-50 or so UConn fans who purchased rooms at the discounted rate that Phelan helped to secure boarded a shuttle bound for Ferg's Sports Bar which served as the tailgate headquarters for the St. Petersburg Bowl. It just so happened that a certain newspaper reporter happened to be staying at the same hotel, unaware that it was going to be UConn fan headquarters. It certainly aided my efforts to save my company some money by passing on a rental car when I returned to Tampa on Christmas evening after spending about 24 hours in the Atlanta area so I could spend Christmas with my sister and her family. It was an enjoyable ride seeing a few families and other couples make their way to the game.

As they got off the shuttle, it didn't take long for a parade of those UConn fans to head to the gathering place for the game before the game.

"I enjoy the group of fans and am just enjoying it, just having a great time watching it," said UConn fan Ryan Beiler, an Enfield native who now lives in Cleveland who has attended every UConn bowl game except the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. "I have been a fan since I was a little kid watching them at Memorial Stadium. It is just a great time to come and meet people that I don't even know and cheer on UConn.

"My wife surprised me with a Christmas present. It was a great thing for me. She got the flight, got the hotel and surprised me on Christmas Day and I excited about it.

"I met some people I know from my hometown of Enfield so it is just great to meet people that I don't even know who are UConn fans."

If there is a high-profile UConn football game whether it is regular-season games at Notre Dame or Michigan or a bowl, there's a pretty good chance to Phalen has reached out to a local hotel and arranged transportation for the UConn traveling party.

"It is a great thing that he does," Beiler said. "It is a great thing for fans and for UConn to have."


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