The Outback Bowl is not about the football game. The football game is simply a conduit through which the most important bowl-season competition is waged: Bloomin’ Onion vs. Coconut Shrimp.
The concept is simple.
A few years ago, the Outback Bowl ticket stub granted attendees a free Bloomin’ Onion for the month of January at participating Outback locations. I know because I redeemed one after the 2011 Outback Bowl.
But the game promotion has since changed to split the nation along fried food-related lines.
Aligning with the bowl’s conference tie-ins, the SEC participant (South Carolina this year) was Team Bloomin’ Onion, and the Big Ten participant (Michigan) was Team Coconut Shrimp. The winning team earns the entire country a free appetizer on the day after the game. South Carolina won, so that’ll be free Bloomin’ Onions.
There is a prominent conspiracy theory that says Team Coconut Shrimp is given to the Big Ten because it’s expensive to send excess shrimp to some of the far-flung locales that Outback occupies. While this isn’t true (per the bowl), it’s plausible enough to make sense. Team Bloomin’ Onion is 4-1 since the promotion began a few years ago.
If you’re going to go the day after the game, make sure you get there early.
Last year I went to Gainesville, Fla. the day after Florida won the Outback Bowl. My party waited 45 minutes to get in the restaurant, akin to that of a weekend night. The difference was this was Tuesday lunchtime, which should be the quietest dining time of the week. But the Bloomin’ Onions got the people out.
That day, Gainesville’s Outback ran out of Bloomin’ Onions. Thankfully, Iowa didn’t win or things would’ve been much worse.
“I mentioned to our server Ryan Nanni's tweet about the excess coconut shrimp, to which his response was that the consensus among the staff was that Outback would have been screwed if Iowa had won, because shrimp is much more costly,” he said, adding some speculation. “He wasn't sure if they had stocked up excess supply of shrimp in case of Iowa victory and definitely felt that ownership was rooting for a Gator victory.
“By the time we were leaving around 6:15, he told us they were about to run out. He said they were told to offer the shrimp for free instead of the onion, and if they ran out of shrimp, they would then offer mac and cheese. Which makes you wonder, if they had to have a third option ready, they must not have had very much shrimp.”
It’s also not the only free appetizer deal that’s offered by Outback. The much less popular Bloomin’ Mondays rewards diners if Outback’s sponsored NASCAR driver finishes in the top 10.
SB Nation’s Ryan Nanni was this year’s Bloomin’ Onion Man mascot during the third quarter of the game.
Maybe coincidentally — and maybe not! — that was the quarter in which South Carolina started its comeback from 16 points down.
Ryan did an excellent job as the mascot.
Dreams do come true, you see.