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Looking back at the 2023 “Swamp Bowl”

The RedHawks storm the field as the rain keeps pouring down
The RedHawks storm the field as the rain keeps pouring down

On Dec. 8, 1888, Miami University and the University of Cincinnati played the first college football game in the state of Ohio. If on Dec. 8, 1888, the weather had been like it was on the day of the Cure Bowl in Orlando last month, there would have been no 127th Battle for the Victory Bell for the RedHawks to finally win in 2023. They would have surely scrapped the whole thing.

In December, Florida averages pretty warm temperatures. For a state known for rain, there is a surprisingly low chance of precipitation each day in December (18%), but not on the day of the Cure Bowl. 

On Dec. 16, severe thunderstorms, flooding and high-winds engulfed the state. These were the conditions that the RedHawks faced in Orlando against the Appalachian State Mountaineers.

The RedHawks finished the regular season with an 11-2 record, their best record since 2003 (13-1), and the second Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship victory in the Chuck Martin-era. 

For the week leading up to the game, the players engaged with the community and visited the Universal Studios theme park. The weather was perfect all week leading up to the game. 

Redshirt freshman linebacker Luke Myers said nobody discussed the weather until the day before the game. At that point, the discussion became whether the game would even go on.

“We didn’t think anything of it,” Myers said. “The weather changes all the time. The day before, the talk was all about whether we would even play.”

The monsoon-like conditions weren't in the forecast until the night before and the day of the game. Adam Boyer, the football team’s equipment manager, said the week leading up to the game showed no signs of what was to come.

“The weather was perfect the entire week, except for that day,” Boyer said. “We got there on Monday, and I would say every day was 70 to 75 degrees and sunny. You couldn’t have asked for better weather.”

No one fully understood how bad the weather would be at the Cure Bowl until the morning of the game. 

“Everyone started joking about it,” Boyer said. “Guys were out on the field, and it was just a nice, light rain. Then it opened up, started pouring and never stopped. I looked at the forecast and realized that we had two inches of rain coming.”

The rain continued relentlessly as the game neared its start. Despite the quick preparation by Boyer and his equipment staff of students, the weather dominated the game more than either team. With nothing else to do, the RedHawks stormed the field in the same manner as the surrounding rain. 

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Both teams initially tried passing, but an interception by star Miami defensive back Yahsyn McKee on the game’s first play from scrimmage made it clear that the rain would make this a run-heavy game. The RedHawks and the Mountaineers rushed for a combined 360 yards, compared to 255 combined passing yards. 

Photo by Jessica Monahan | The Miami Student

Senior defensive back Yahsyn McKee caught one interception minutes into the first quarter

Even when the ball was kept on the ground, neither team could hold onto the slippery oblate spheroid. The wet field caused so many fumbles that no one could even keep track. Miami said there were 13, ESPN said 12. Running-backs were slipping, quarterbacks were losing the ball in their hands and the offensive line couldn’t stick to the ground and block. 

Photo by Jessica Monahan | The Miami Student
Junior wide receiver caught four balls for 36 yards against the Mountaineers

The team had two types of cleats: hard bottom and molded bottom. Each player has his own preference, but Boyer ensured that there were plenty of cleats, socks and gloves to go around. 

“When it rains, our center switched from molded to hard bottoms so he could get into the ground more and not slip,” Boyer said. “The only guy on our team last year that was concerned with what his cleats did was Rashad Amos. He switched back and forth like three or four times between a couple different pairs.”

Photo by Jessica Monahan | The Miami Student
Both teams were forced to keep the ball on the ground during the storm

With the heavy use of the run-game, players kept sliding on the field and losing their balance. By halftime, the field paint at the 50-yard line was smeared over the players’ socks and uniforms.

Photo by Jessica Monahan | The Miami Student
By halftime, the field paint had been smeared over the players uniforms

Boyer and his equipment staff stayed busy for the duration of the game. For many staffers, this was the worst rain at any sporting event they’ve worked. Boyer needed to organize his staff. He assigned everyone a role, but they struggled to keep up with the weather.

“We ended up assigning one person to a trash bag with a bunch of towels. Anytime a ball came off, it went immediately in the bag,” Boyer said. “One kid had around 30 quarterback towels in his pockets and hoodie so he could hand them out. It takes a little bit more organization on our end.”

The staff handed out towels, swapped cleat bottoms, traded footballs and dried the ones that weren’t in play, removed visors and handed out new gloves, jackets, etc. 

The wet field provided a significant challenge for everybody. The offense couldn’t keep the ball in their hands, and their reliance on the run-game allowed the Mountaineers to force three fumbles. For Myers and the defense, their goal was simple: play to the same level as usual. 

“Our big emphasis is on doing your job,” Myers said. “The attitude on the defensive side of the ball is always the same. You just have to be tougher and not let it affect you. Don’t let outside factors like the rain impact your job. You can still go out there and whoop somebody.”

The RedHawk defense held the Mountaineers to 13 points with one interception and two fumble recoveries, but the RedHawks couldn’t overcome the weather when the ball was in their hands.

After the devastating 9-13 loss, the RedHawks were ready to dry off and fly back to Oxford. Historically, Miami rarely plays in weather-intensive games. The 2017 matchup between the RedHawks and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats saw strong winds and rain, but nothing compares to last year’s Cure Bowl.

Despite this, Boyer maintains that the experience was a teaching moment for the team and equipment staff.

“I was proud of our kids,” Boyer said. “The first half was a little rough, just everyone getting used to it. But, I thought in the second half we all did a really good job of adapting and finding our roles and making it work.”