Behind the scenes at the Orange Bowl with Shalala

While the football team may have broken out into a rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” in the locker room following the Wake Forest game, it is University of Miami President Donna Shalala that has a lot of friends, most of them in not-so-low places.

Whether she is greeting potential donors, politicians, fans or former football players, Shalala does everything but sit still during football games at the Orange Bowl.

“Donna, we got you a new Orange Bowl,” Miami City Manager, Joe Arriola jokingly told Shalala, referring to the bond that recently passed allocating over $50 million in taxes to renovations of the stadium.

Among the concerns of the renovations are that the capacity of the stadium will be cut from 74,000 to about 57,500. Shalala however, is not concerned.

“We will have seats for every student,” she said. “That’s all I care about.”

Shalala typically spends the first quarter or so walking through the stands greeting fans, students and cheerleaders.

As with any early game, the stands, particularly the student section, were rather empty.

“By halftime they’ll be here,” Shalala said. “I prefer the three o’clock games. They are the perfect time, not too late, not too early.”

She spent the first quarter of the game in the student section greeting various students and posing for pictures. She spent some time sitting with the Band of the Hour, as well as greeting members of the women’s rowing team.

“I got to fire the cannon once,” Shalala told the brothers of Sigma Chi, referring to Touchdown Tommy, the cannon fired by the fraternity after each UM score, while sitting with them.

To many, Shalala is a near-celebrity. While walking through the crowds, it’s not uncommon to hear “Let’s go, Donna” being chanted by fans. Nor is it uncommon for people to stop her and ask for autographs or to pose for pictures. Or the common question, at least for the Wake Forest game, “How was the opening of the Clinton library?” To which Shalala responded, every time she was asked, “cold and wet.”

The President has her own private box at the Orange Bowl, right next to the Hurricane Club box, where donors get season seats by donating $15,000, or one-half of a scholarship. They have a buffet of food during the game and also have TVs to watch the game.

Various members of the Board of Trustees, including Judi Prokop Newman, chair of the Student Affairs committee for the Board and Dean Colson, Chairman of the Board, joined Shalala for the game. Throughout the second half of the game Shalala spoke with potential donors about contributing to the University, as well as other Hurricanes fans.

While it may seem that a lot of her time during the game is spent on business, Shalala still cheers with the rest of the Hurricanes’ fans.

“They’re not dropping passes today,” she said. “They must have put some glue on their hands.”

She is quick to add that the team has worked hard.

“I’m happy for them,” she said. “I’m really happy about this game.”

Leigha Taber can be contacted at