MIAMI — The chandeliers in the world-famous Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach hung magnificently above the Vogler family as they sat, waiting for their son Brian to come down and join them for dinner.
The floor was a neon blue and outside, barely within view, was a large pool surrounded by palm trees. The trees faded from view as the sun slowly set for the day.
It was an incredible setting, one which underscored the significance of why they were there.
Brian is a tight end on the Alabama football team, just a day away from playing in his second BCS title game against Notre Dame on Monday night.
His friends and family, gathered in the city, said that being in this place and sharing this experience is a testament to all the work that has been put in over the years.
“I don’t think I can even describe it, because I can’t fathom how big this is,” said Christina Vogler, Brian’s mom.
“This is the Super Bowl of college sports,” added Anne Brown, Brian’s sister. “It doesn’t get any bigger than this. Brian’s aware that this doesn’t happen all that often, and for it to happen to him two years in a row, he’ll always remember this experience. It took a lot of work, obviously, to get here. His hard work has paid off.”
And of course, all of Brian’s loved ones are happy to share in the experience.
“We’re his biggest fans,” Brown said. “It’s really special. We get to see him and spend time together. (The players) aren’t isolated, so this is an experience we can share together.”
A handful of Brian’s contingent, including parents Ron and Christina, got into town Friday.
The other half of the group made it Saturday afternoon, just in time to attempt to attend the pep rally on Miami Beach (thought, they turned around and headed back to the hotel when they decided the crowds and traffic were too big).
On Saturday night, they were waiting for Brian to make it down so that they could go to dinner together, a rare opportunity to escape from the hoopla surrounding the game and just spend time as a family.
“We’re just happy to be here and to spend time with him. It’s a great experience for all of us,” Christina said.
While Brian and his family and friends had a brief escape from the work at practice and the media obligations, the game is still at the back of their minds.
Julie Harris and her daughter, Allison, friends who traveled with the Vogler family, are both part of the Crimson Tide family and they said that, despite all the incredible sights and sounds around town, they really can’t wait to see the game.
The fact that Brian, who they’ve seen grow up, as Allison put it, from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-7, makes it that much more special.“It’s such a personal experience,” Allison said. “We’ve gotten to know other families of the football players through Brian, and it’s just that much more special of an experience.”
“We’ve vacationed with their family when the kids were growing up,” Julie said, “and we’ve gotten to know them well. It’s special to see somebody we’ve known grow up into such a special player and get to have such special opportunities.“We’re so proud of him.”
Another friend of the family, Fran Hargarten, who is a graduate of Hardaway High and the University of Georgia, said that experiencing things in a national title for a friend or the family of a friend trumps rooting for his own team.
“I bleed red and black,” he said, referencing Georgia’s colors. “But I put a lot more stock in rooting for the people that I know, because at the end of the day, that’s much more important than a football team.”
And, of course, there’s Brian’s dad, who is filled with anticipation for the game as well.
Ron Vogler said that he’s laid back and doesn’t let himself get too caught up in the ebbs and the flows of every game (or he would have died during the Southeastern Conference championship, he said), but he is excited and nervous all at once.
Ron said that he’ll wear a headphone in one ear to listen to the game and keep one uncovered so as “to remain personable.” For a dad watching his son on the biggest stage in college football, that’s to be expected.
The best thing for him, though, is that he knows Brian will be ready.
“I don’t have to give him a talk about being ready,” he said. “The whole time he’s been at Alabama, not once have I ever questioned anything he or the coaches have done. They do things the right way, and that makes you feel good about it.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571