April 16, 2011
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By Doug Richards
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - From the smiles on the faces of the five judges, it certainly seemed like the inaugural UCF Tailgate Cookoff was a success. Before the Knights took the field for their annual spring football game, cooks from across central Florida competed in an event that looks like it will become a UCF tradition.
The cookoff, which began at noon in the tailgate lots just outside Bright House Networks Stadium, allowed both UCF fans and local restaurants and caterers the chance to square off on the grill.
The panel of judges - UCF's radio team of Marc Daniels, Mike Gruttadauria and Jerry O'Neill, the Orlando Sentinel's Iliana Limon and Lil Shawn of Power 95.3 FM - enjoyed a smorgasbord of ribs, burgers, pulled pork, cornbread, baked beans, chili and cole slaw.
In the tailgaters category, the All Knighters took the top prize for their bbq shrimp, followed by Daniel Flynn for his bacon-wrapped ham. Collins Catering took both first and second in the restaurant category. The group's ribs placed first, and their pulled pork was the runner up. Collins Catering also garnered the special showmanship award.
Participants were graded on taste, appearance and originality.
From the looks of the empty plates, the judges clearly enjoyed the event. O'Neill hopes that the cookoff becomes an annual part of the spring game.
"I loved it. I hope this continues every year," he said. "I'm impressed at the turnout and the number of people who wanted to participate in this event and all the people who came to the game today. This was a great experience for someone like me who has seen a lot. It's great to see what UCF is becoming."
Prizes for the top finishers included pregame sideline passes for a 2010 UCF home contest, tickets to the Knights' Sept. 17 game at Florida International and an autographed team football.
If the event does return next year, expect to see O'Neill back as a judge.
"I loved the excitement and having the chance to participate in this taste-testing event as a judge," he said. "What's not to like?"
The cookoff was one of the many pregame activities for fans at the stadium. One of the most popular attractions was an autograph session with several of UCF's current and former NFL players. Patrick Brown, Doug Gabriel, Darcy Johnson, Bruce Miller, Sha'reff Rashad, Josh Sitton, Kevin Smith and Mike Sims-Walker were among the former Knights who signed autographs.
Sitton, who helped the Green Bay Packers claim the Super Bowl title in February, enjoyed interacting with members of UCF's growing fan base.
"It's been awesome to come back here and have a great weekend. It's fun to come back and see how far this program has come. There were a lot of fans coming out to the spring game and to be back and see that has been a real fun experience," he said.
While in Wisconsin, Sitton regularly signs autographs on Packers memorabilia. He enjoyed putting his signature on some black and gold items Saturday, even though he did have a little hesitation at first.
"I was wondering what number I should sign, my college or my pro number, but I went with my pro number because that's what I'm used to signing now. But it's definitely a cool thing to sign all this UCF stuff."