Sunday, October 28

Worlds Largest Culture Clash

Odometer: 11,938
Location: Jacksonville, FL
States Visited: Georgia, Florida

After some solid rest, relaxation, and reminiscing in Charleston, I hit the road prepared to tangle with Gators, Dawgs, and whatever epithets they heaped upon one another. On my way south, I had a major lunch craving, but couldn’t stomach the idea of fast food. I’ve had enough cardboard-flavored burgers and chick’n-crispies to last me a good decade. But on the highway, the signs never list the local joints. Upon any freeway exit, you are likely stuck with the value meal or dollar menu after all. So when I was approaching the Florida/Georgia border and spied a sign for Larry’s Giant Subs, I knew it was the place for me. Of all the “road food” I’ve consumed on this trip, nothing hit the spot quite like Larry’s, even if it did turn out to be a chain. Furthermore, they had an enormous display of King Kong busting through the wall. I asked the kid working there if it was OK if I snapped a picture. He cautioned me against using flash photography, but I risked the beast’s escape and got this beauty.

Friday night, I hit the Jacksonville Landing which is best described as a mall with bars right on the river. The night before the Cocktail Party, it is a mass of people from both sides, getting their drink on. Rather than go into detail, I’m just going to give you some quick hits on things I saw.

Many gorgeous women: Kitschy T-shirts:

Zealous fans: A man wearing a tuxedo up top, but only Georgia boxers on the bottom:
Make it Suntori Time

“Funny” Florida guys:
Nice watch, guy

I would be remiss if I did not make mention of the absolutely horrendous music. The DJ played a littany of the worst tunes you could think of. Here is a short list: Tag Team, Robert Palmer, Rednex, Scatman, Sir Mix-A-Lot, some weird oldies mashup, KC and the Sunshine Band (twice), and Kris Kross. It's 2007! My God, man! By 11, the place was completely mobbed. I decided it was time to make my exit, particularly because my neutral colors meant people had no idea what to yell at me. Plus, I had a big day of sampling at the Worlds Largest Cocktail Party starting early the next morning.

The nickname may no longer be officially applied, but I can attest that livers remain active in Jacksonville. Drinks of all varieties were consumed, shared, and sampled throughout the day. Though bourbon appeared to be the most popular pick. Florida and Georgia fans razzed one another with calls of “Jean shorts” rebutted by quotes of recent head-to-head records. Toy alligators and bulldogs were stomped, dragged, and generally abused throughout the day. I was surprised to see many Florida and Georgia fans arriving together. Aside from the groups that came that way, there was little commingling of the two fan bases. Very few of the Bulldog fans I spoke with gave their team even a slim chance to come away with victory. Gator backers were all rather confident that victory would be theirs again.

There’s a somewhat subtle, yet significant difference between NFL stadiums and those on campus, even when the arena is loaded with college football fans. It could be because there’s a “Bud Zone” or maybe that there are seats instead of bleachers. Whatever the case, I greatly prefer a college stadium. I almost felt like we were watching the action on TV. My seat was in the Florida section, though there were two extremely vocal Bulldogs directly behind me. These ladies were awfully lit up. It was clear they’d been partaking of the day’s libations in order to perform at their squawky best once toe met leather. Several rows in front of me, a guy who took himself pretty seriously brought a whistle and led the crowd in cheers. He was way into it and people followed his routine. If you saw the game, you knowshon what happened. Every team should have a blueprint on how to beat the Gators’ young defense now. If you have an even remotely speedy wideout and a QB with any arm strength whatsoever, deep passes for touchdowns are yours for the taking. I’m sure their DBs will mature and they’ll have three years of excellent play back there. As Charlie Weis says, take your opportunity now.
A special thanks to Paul Westerdawg of Georgia Sports Blog who showed great hospitality with food, drink, and friends. I’m off to Atlanta for a few days before trekking to what would normally be considered enemy territory for me. Columbus Ohio. I’ll try not to cause offense to wind up in traction or worse.

Friday, October 26

Two more SI On Campus Columns

The Bridgewater College column is up at SI On Campus. Note, it's not a Tailgate Report Card this time, though the topic is very similar. You can find it here. I still determined grades which I will share eventually. They got high marks for Eats and Best Tailgate.

You can also find the Rutgers Tailgate Report Card by clicking here. There have been frequent comments here about the "Yellow Lot Savages." I have no idea what that's supposed to mean. Nor do I even understand whether it's a compliment or an insult. Anyone care to elaborate?

Thursday, October 25

I Like Your Tattoo Depiction

Odometer: 11,627
Location: Charleston, SC
States Visited: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina

When I first decided to do this, I knew one of the perks would be that I get to see friends scattered throughout the country. One of my closest friends and my old roommate from Chicago lives in Charleston, South Carolina. The only time I was able to visit him there previously was for his wedding sixteen months ago. Though I was in town for only 20 hours, the city did its best to charm me. I immediately vowed a return. It would be fair to say that that brief visit was one of the major inspirations for this journey. After merely flirting with one of the many jewels this country has to offer, I longed to experience as many of them as possible this fall. I am returning to the scene of the crime – the key that turned the ignition, so to speak. A visit that seemed so far away just a few weeks ago was finally upon me.

After spending a quick night in Brooklyn (my first visit to that particular jewel), I rose at 5:30 and hopped in the Corolla, determined to beat the New York traffic. It was apparently early for Grandma as well as she did her best to confuse me and generally lead me astray through convoluted New York side streets. But after various minor missteps, we were paying a nine dollar toll and heading across the Varrazana –Narrows Bridge to Staten Island.

Finally in New Jersey, I cruised south on the Jersey Turpike with the I-pod on shuffle. At the exact moment that the sun finally rose, the eerily prescient device shuffled to the song “South Carolina” by Archers of Loaf. Aside from a ridiculous frequency of tolls which were made easier thanks to the fact that the I-pass system is networked with the east coast EZ Pass system, the journey was a sleepy, but easy one.

Driving in Charleston is quite a shock to the system after driving in NYC. People let everyone in. It’s not the same. But the city is gorgeous and everyone I met was cheerfully friendly. Sadly, it was too busy to check out everything I wanted – including the Confederacy Museum located on Meeting Street – but it was an excellent few days. I’d love to write more, but being short on time, I’ll have to end it now.

Off to Florida next. Florida? That’s America’s wang…

Also, this baby is mean:

Sunday, October 21

Kelly Hold Your Water

Odometer: 10,604
Location: Cambridge, MA

Despite the nearby throng gathered to watch the Head of the Charles rowing derby, football was still a matter of significant import on Saturday. The Harvard Crimson hosted their Ivy League rival Princeton Tigers in a field hockey match. Meanwhile, the same schools battled at historic Harvard Stadium in a game of football, which was of course the reason I came to town. The stadium is gorgeous, if a bit ancient. There is little decoration, but it’s got a certain pristine charm. There are no seats – you just sit on gigantic concrete steps, much like the Coliseum in Rome.
I lived in Boston eleven years ago, and I was somewhat surprised to find that I remembered very little about the layout and culture of the city. Granted, I was sleeping on a couch and had virtually no disposable cash. Exploring the city generally meant finding a pickup basketball game in the park and then going home to make a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. On Saturday, people told me that it’s a Boston thing to arrive late for everything. I can’t recall that being the case, but I see how it makes sense. Very few fans arrived early enough to get their tailgate on in a solid fashion. I realize my perspective may be off after all the places I’ve been, and I know it wasn’t the Yale game, but I expected there to be a bit more activity. Hardly any students came out for the tailgate – in fact, not that many were there for the game itself. I realize you don’t go to Harvard to see the football team, but it’s Saturday afternoon. You’d think the kids could take a couple hours off from studying. For many attendees, tailgating was done more out of formality than anything else. But there were those that were more enthusiastic. The most notable were members of the 1958 team who meet at the same spot before every game. Diverse spreads of fancy food were offered at most of the areas in this lot, and I had more than my fair share. Many alumni from the football team were present, and I was shocked at how big they were. I’m six feet tall, but I felt tiny next to these guys. I expected that the Ivy League players would basically be regular dudes, only better at school. I actually felt a bit intimidated for the first time in this trip.

Young alumni "clean" the grill

The press box at Harvard is actually on the roof of the stadium, and is accessibly only by a hike up many flights of stairs. I didn’t linger there long, wanting to be down amongst the people as the game picked up. As I said, these guys are bigger than I expected. The game action featured hits as hard as I’ve seen anywhere else this season, with all players giving their best effort. After a few false start penalties, I was sitting behind the Princeton bench and heard a coach screaming at his unit, “Tell me what’s going on!!” Don’t try to tell these players or coaches that their game is less important. They know better. At one point, while sitting on the Harvard side, I spotted two African American students who had gone across the way and did the Soulja Boy dance while the Harvard Band was busy playing Beehtoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Sadly, I couldn’t get my camera out in time to film them. When I was at Bridegewater College, one of the students shouted to the mascot, “Hey Ernie – do Soulja Boy!” Folks, this song is officially become ubiquitous. I think we’ve all had enough. They’re doing it at Harvard. I strive to be a neutral observer at all of these games, but the Princeton uniform features a helmet identical to Michigan’s in design. The only difference is their orange and black colors. When I saw that they had a scrappy, undersized tailback wearing number 20, I couldn’t help but start to pull for the Tigers. Besides, after hearing it played at 30% of the games I’ve attended, I’m fairly certain Tiger Rag is the soundtrack to my dreams (and nightmares for that matter).
A fine look in any color

Speaking of which, the Princeton Band is some sort of goofy in-joke that I don’t totally understand. They wear silly outfits, which don’t even appear to utilize the correct shade of orange. Instead of a fluffy hat, the drum major is wearing a pallium just like the Pope (the Pope of Princeton?). They are clearly encouraged to include all types of “flair” on their costumes and spend most of the game just hanging out, not playing anything. They don’t even march. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying I don’t totally understand it. When the game ends, both teams line up and shake hands – just like in hockey or soccer. It was not something I was accustomed to seeing. I think that it would be an excellent idea to forcibly implement for one of the I-A conferences. Imagine the attention the MAC or CUSA would gain if they started mandatory handshake lines. Plus, it might help with recruits. I returned to the tailgate scene afterwards and found that the players and cheerleaders join in the fun once they’re cleaned up. Things remain relatively low-key even after a victory. I’m sure all the players are tired – not to mention the fact that they’ve neglected their studies all day. I ran into Harvard’s starting kicker, Matt Schindel, who just ended his career after tearing his ACL in practice. We compared future scars, though he didn’t seem that keen on talking about it. His surgery is due in the next few days. Mine isn’t until this trip is done. In the middle of the game, Princeton made a big defensive stop, and their crowd let out a big cheer. I came to the realization that I am becoming addicted to that cheering. There was something visceral released in me that I can only assume is comparable to a drag on that first morning cigarette, or a drive-thru Venti Mocha Latte. I’m just some guy in the stands, though. They’re not actually cheering for me. I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be in the Arcade Fire or AC/DC and have people screaming for you on a nightly basis. They must fiend for the applause when not on tour. My next fix is in a week in Jacksonville Florida at the Worlds Largest Censored Party. The neutral site means that I’m sure to be hearing at least half the stadium cheering for every result. I can’t wait!

Saturday, October 20

Wet N Windy

Odometer: 10,569
Location: Cambridge, MA
States Visited: Connecticut, Massachusetts

One more brief note about Rutgers. One group of young alumni noticed I wasn’t wearing a red shirt. They were appalled. Immediately, they began passing the hat to take up a collection for me to purchase one. They demanded a picture appear in this space proving said purchase. I haven’t had any photos of myself here on the blog, and am enjoying keeping up the mystery. But since I promised, here’s a shot of me and the shirt with some mystery preserved, Cowbell Commander style.Getting out of New York wasn’t so bad, but I was immediately reminded of what a difficult time it is to go north through Connecticut. The roads are windy, and always jammed with traffic. Accidents are frequent and with no shoulder often bring traffic flow to a standstill. I couldn’t help but think of prior journeys, every one of them met with brake lights and curse words. Combine that with a torrential downpour, and five hours of sleep (thanks Rutgers!), and you’ve got a pretty arduous trip. The vibrantly colored trees adorning rolling hills were only so beautiful thanks to the rain. Perhaps on the return, I can ogle the scenery a bit more. I arrived in Boston to find it totally jammed with people. It’s always that way, but with the Head of the Charles going on, it was especially crowded. I spent a summer in Boston many years ago, and I can’t help but reminisce of days with a hearty liver and no disposable income. After a good piece of fish, and a healthy portion of ice cream, we hit the karaoke bar where I butchered Kings of Leon, The Beatles, and Franz Ferdinand. Now it’s off to Harvard Stadium to see how the smartypants do it!

Friday, October 19

Arthur Dimmesdale Needs a Good Flogging

Odometer: 10,399
Location: New York, NY
States Visited: New Jersey, New York

With great anticipation I crossed the Hudson and returned to New Jersey to witness the New Kid on the Block host the New Infant on the Block. I once spent a solid week in New Brunswick as part of my first trip to New York sans parents, and I was curious to see how the place had changed. Of course, we didn’t spend a lick of time in Piscataway on that trip, and with good reason. Rutgers has three separate campuses (five if you count Newark and Camden). Piscataway is the one where you don’t want to spend your time. Rather than allow the P-way campus to be my only view of the school, I bounced over to New Brunswick and briefly cruised the town. Aside from being more crowded, it was pretty much the college town I recalled from thirteen years ago. The one major exception to that was the letter R was plastered all over town. I haven’t spent a ton of time in New Jersey, but I feel I was able to experience some of its exemplary traits. The first group of guys I encountered were all alone in a remote parking lot and spent most of the morning talking smack to one another through thick Jersey accents. Full bravado was on display, much to my delight. They offered me a puff from their hookah, but I had to get where more of the tailgating scene was going down. When you go to a game at Rutgers, unless you know somebody who’s donated to the school, you have to park in a lot very far away from the stadium. Shuttle buses take fans back and forth, though they weren’t running when I arrived. So I walked the two miles to the stadium grounds, stopping to talk to tailgaters along the way. There were a surprising number of die-hard Rutgers fans who had been through the bad times. I expected a lot of Eagles and Giants fans who didn’t give two licks about the college game, but was pleased to see a lot of young people who could compare to those I’ve seen all across the country. I did get a sense of people in New Jersey feeling overlooked. Jersey pride came up often. A number of folks felt they had to defend Jersey against claims of being the “armpit of America.” I’ve never heard that distinction levied on the state before. Has anyone else? In fact, I previously applied that term to southeastern Idaho, though I made it even nastier. A number of fans said, “You better not write anything bad about New Jersey,” with a few of them following that up with, “I’ll track you down if you do!” Never fear, Scarlet Knights. I had a great time.If you didn’t watch the Rutgers/USF game, you missed a darn good one. The Rutgers student section started the “overrated” chant before the game. Generally, it’s best to wait until after you’ve beaten the higher ranked team to put that one out there, kids. You’d feel silly later if your team was beaten, plus, you’re only serving to fire up the opponent, not your guys. But beyond that minor faux pas, I didn’t hear any of the vulgarities or rudeness that got them in “trouble” earlier this season. In the first half, USF quarterback Matt Groethe led impressive drives and it seemed as though the Bulls were the better team. Rutgers had trouble fielding punts and getting field goals away cleanly. But the score remained tight at the half. A guy walking down the aisle recognized someone sitting behind me and they did the whole, “hey, nice to see ya” thing. The guy closed by saying, “see you on the field” with a hopeful grin.

When a Rutgers player muffed a kickoff only to haveit bounce back into his arms before a scramble all the way to midfield, it was a clear sign that USF wasn’t getting out of there with a win. All I could think was, “Kid, this ain’t your night.” The season isn't over for the Bulls by any strectch, and this three point loss shoudn't knock them back too far. Not this year, anyway.Rutgers fans found themselves once again tumbling all over one another at midfield, preening for the ESPN cable camera in celebration. This crazy season just keeps rolling along. You had to know USF was in trouble the second those BCS rankings come out. BC, you’re next! One recent grad asked me, “Has anyone told you about the RU Screw yet?” I thought maybe this was some kind of drink or cheer or game. He was referring to the fact that the school is so massive and any time a student needs to get something approved or sent out or fixed, there is so much red tape to go through, they end up getting screwed. I was told by anyone I encountered that the shuttle bus would easily take me back to my car without issue. Upon the game’s completion, I joined a throng of people slowly being herded towards the shuttles. Getting on the bus didn’t take very long, but once we were aboard, the bus took roughly 50 minutes to travel three blocks. I decided to get off and walk, no matter how long I had already languished. After all, it was a sunk cost. I was of course concerned that once the bus got to the next corner, it would be smooth sailing. For the first time in this whole driving-across-the-country experience, I was really angry. Angry at the school for giving me the RU Screw, and angry at myself for not knowing better. All those R’s hung up in town may stand for Rutgers, but they also stand for Really Freaking Far Away – or maybe it was Reed is Going to Get a Workout Tonight. I at least broke even by walking, and it’s probably good for my knee anyway. I didn’t arrive back to my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side until 2:30 in the morning. All that said, it was certainly worth the hassle to see a game with that much excitement. On to Boston next!

Wednesday, October 17


Odometer: 10,285
Location: New York, NY
States visited: West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York

After seven weeks, eight games, and over 10,000 miles, I’ve reached my journey’s midpoint in terms of time, games, and distance. So I’m going to take 20 minutes and think about what’s been working and what needs to improve. I’ll do a quick film review. I’ll make adjustments. Then I’m going to give myself a pep talk. It’s going to go something like this:

Then I’ll get back out there and find a way to take this sucker home. Go Team!

A couple last notes on Bridgewater. I can't believe I neglected to mention this, but the gang at Stone Station have created a new tradition they perform twenty minutes before kickoff of every game. It involves everyone standing in a circle and rapidly passing a variety of Boones Farm bottles to the right. It's basically gulp and pass until it's all gone. Strawberry Hill is far more disgusting than I remember, but Snow Creek Berry lived up to my collegiate memories. Ah, to be young again. The name for this tradition? Taking communion. I could see this catching on across the country, and I'm sure the Stone station folks would have no problems with being copied.
Also, the BC home turf has a large Eagle logo painted at midfield. The unique thing about this logo is that it was laid down by members of the football team who happen to be art majors. That's another neat feature about a D-III program. I can't imagine a D-I school letting their football players paint the field, let alone tell them that's the only way they're going to get a logo. If you're into DIY, you have to appreciate that. You must be at least a little into DIY or you wouldn't be reading this blog...

In one of my shortest destination changing drives, I departed the smallest town on my itinerary for the Mecca of our nation. New York City is one of those few places that gets your blood pumping as you approach. Cruising through the congested industrial area of New Jersey, Manhattan suddenly came into view and I was immediately reminded how much I love the place. The only pity was that I would be there for only a few days and be too busy to really do it up with my friends. Not to mention the tight budget for this trip that prevents me from hitting the clubs. This is the first time I’ve ever been foolhardy enough to take a car into the city. I don’t recommend it. Parking in Manhattan is darn near impossible, and driving in general should not be attempted lightly. In the crunch to enter the Lincoln Tunnel, I got the feeling that my out of town plates marked me as easy pickins in the battle to get in line first. Or maybe I was just being self-conscious and everyone behaved as they always do. After zigzagging the Upper West Side for about twenty minutes, I espied a guy jumping into his car. I snagged his spot and felt like I’d finally arrived. Whether you love or hate New York, you have to love the idea of it. There are so many people working their asses off, and so many minute pockets of American culture. There is quite simply no place like it. I think I’ve heard eleven different languages spoken, and I’ve only been here two days. I only know about five people who live in NYC, but whenever I am here, I always feel like I recognize people. This doesn’t happen to me in any other city. Clearly, these people merely resemble my friends, but feeling like you could almost know random strangers is somehow comforting.

I pity the poor pollsters. They actually are forced to think for once. Normally they just look at the loss column, bucket teams and rank accordingly. Not feasible this year. They have to evaluate teams and place value on the games that were played. That's the whole point of the polls to begin with, but it's nice to see them actually doing it. My next stop is Piscataway, New Jersey for the Rutgers/South Florida game. If the trends this season have been any indication, the USF Bulls don’t stand a chance. We’ll find out!

Sunday, October 14

Sail On Silvergirl

Odometer: 9,937
Location: Harrisonburg, VA

I’ve never done anything to make myself remotely famous. Like anyone, I’ve been curious about what it might be like to attain celebrity status. And perhaps, yes, I’ve even fantasized about winning an academy award for best director and later going on to become president. Honestly, who among us hasn’t? Thus far, my undertakings have been pursued in relative anonymity. I chat up people at their tailgates, trying not to appear too creepy in my approach. They look at me a bit cockeyed, then learn what I’m up to and immediately profess their jealousy before telling me their stories. But when I made some contacts in advance of arriving at Bridgewater College, they eagerly helped me make friends, and before I knew it, the town was buzzing with news of my arrival.
I chose to visit Bridgewater this weekend for a number of reasons. I resolved to check out non Division I action on this trip, and this particular weekend fit my schedule best. Bridgewater was in the right location for me and happened to be celebrating homecoming this weekend. But it wasn’t mere coincidence that brought me to the Shenandoah Valley. Bridgewater’s history in football is a rather unique one. For roughly 80 years, they were one of the worst football programs at any level. After a(nother) 0-10 season in 1998, they played themselves all the way up to a three-point loss in the 2001 D-III national championship game. Since then, their team has remained competitive, routinely winning their conference and making the playoffs every year but one. I was curious to learn the fans’ take on their sport. Like every place I’ve been so far, they did not disappoint.Matt Barnhart, who runs put me in touch with various people close to the program as well as some fans whose passion rivals anything I’ve seen at the D-I level. My first official interview was with college president Dr. Phil Stone who was willing to delay his next meeting when our interview ran over. Friday morning, I met with head coach Mike Clark at his house where he not only gave me a candid interview, he fed me breakfast. I’m not going to start expecting such treatment going forward. However, if coach Schiano is reading, I take my coffee black and will generally eat anything you put before me. While those meetings were extremely gracious and gave me a ton of insight into the program’s past, present and future, I couldn’t wait to see what the typical fans of Bridgewater were all about.
The nationally recognized tailgate crew, Stone Station, served as my entry point to the Bridgewater fan. Their name comes from their location. Every home game, they set up directly in front of the president’s house. While they’d likely never admit it, these guys and gals strive for tailgating at its highest level. That means a ton of food, plenty of drink, and genial generosity galore. With everyone pitching in at different points throughout the day, this tailgate provided the following: slow-cooked chili, crab soup, deep fried turkey, bacon-wrapped shrimp, , fried mahi-mahi, low country boil, grilled tuna bites, BBQ brisket, special recipe BBQ chicken, and ham pot pie which someone aptly referred to as “belly food.” Mind you, that’s only the main courses. There were also plentiful salads, side dishes, and desserts. I’m fairly certain I will smell of barbecue for the next several days because all of the above were cooked on site. To quote one of the chefs, “It ain’t tailgating if you bring it in already cooked!” A group of seniors at the next tailgate over purchased a live goat which they slaughtered and then slow-cooked on an outdoor fire pit. Say what you want about the ethical and literal messiness of such an endeavor, but that was one fresh hunk of meat. Other tailgates offered barbecued beef, tacos, and of course burgers and dogs. I ate until I felt like I was going to burst, and then I somehow packed in more food. The only place I’ve been with better cuisine thus far was LSU, and even that’s a close call.But the pride didn’t end with just the eats. Throughout my travels, I have encountered fans who eagerly told me how they adore the college game and find the NFL uninteresting by comparison. While the BC fans don’t levy much criticism on I-A football, they are all devoted fans of their division. Bridgewater comes first, but all D-III play maintains everyone’s attention. Due to the lack of mainstream media coverage and the concern each fan has for their own school, the entire populous of D-III fans is a brotherhood. They have to defend their sport from the likes of Colin Cowherd (who apparently called it “high school football”) and others who choose to disparage a game they do not understand. I’m not going to say that Mount Union could beat LSU, but high school competition it is not. I referred to Stone Station as “nationally recognized” at which point you may have said, “Whatevs, I’ve never heard of ‘em.” Ah, but if you were a fan of one of the 238 D-III teams, there’s a good chance their name would ring a bell. They bring their tailgate to the D-III championhip game (aka the Stagg Bowl) every season, regardless of whether BC plays in it. That sums up the situation rather well I think.

The game I watched, unfortunately, did not live up to its billing. Guilford College came to town slightly favored to win a key conference battle. By early in the second quarter, the game was done. BC was up 76-6 early in the fourth and used 93 of their 95 players. The stomping kind of took the air out of the day, as you couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for the Guilford team. They had their worst day against a team having their best. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, their hope for a conference title and a playoff appearance was gone. Bridgewater doesn’t control their own destiny, but you have to think they’re on the right track after bouncing back from their only loss of the season.Throughout the week, people I spoke with were thrilled to meet me, pleased that I included D-III in my tour, and ecstatic that I came to Bridgewater College. Every last person I met asked me, “How’d you pick BC?” While I’m still a bit reluctant to throw around the “SI” letters, I had no choice but to embrace my status as the SI On Campus Tailgate Report Card Guy because that’s how I was often introduced. One woman who wanted to talk to me saw me walking by and called, “Hey! Sports Illustrated!” Late in the blowout, the radio broadcasters announced my presence and the fact that I could be found at Stone Station after the game. While that hardly puts me at George Clooney status, I felt a mix of “Really, I’m not a big deal – just a guy working on a book,” and “Yeah, that’s right – I’m bigtime. Feed me some goat, dammit.” Though I have to admit, it was like 80/20 skewed toward the former. Maybe if I ever win that Oscar, I’ll be comfortable with demanding pre-separated Oreos and large bread.

Friday, October 12

Red River Shootout Tailgate Report Is Up

SI On Campus tailgate report card from Dallas is now posted. Check it here.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments.

Wednesday, October 10

A Return to Appalachia

Odometer: 9868
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
States visited: Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia

When I was about thirteen years old, an article appeared in Sports Illustrated discussing the rigors of travel on NBA players. It mentioned how on road trips, players would consistently feel disoriented and often wake up in hotels not knowing what city they’re in. My jumper may leave much to be desired, and I don’t have groupies staking out the hotel lobbies (yet), but at least on one small level, I can relate to the NBA lifestyle. After covering so many miles and staying in enough random Motel 6s, Best Westerns, and Super 8s, it’s all starting to blur together. The differences between Dallas, Seattle, Madison, and Lincoln should be obvious, but unless I stop for a second and remind myself where I am and who I’m talking to, I can easily get lost in my own journey. I think I said “y’all” to a group of people in Seattle a couple weeks ago. But I can’t remember for sure. It could have been anywhere, really. Considering I have eight more weeks until I arrive at home, that raises some potential concerns for my personal sanity. But if I can maintain focus on the task at hand, I can always get my mind right upon my return to Chicago.

I originally had planned to make my way to Harrisonburg, VA at a leisurely pace, maybe stopping and spending a night in Memphis or otherwise seeing some sights. But because of this disoriented feeling, I decided it was best to get my butt up to the Harrisonburg Econo Lodge as quickly as possible so I could have as many nights in a row in the same location. Of course when I got there, they told me that I would have to switch rooms after the first night. Bipin, the night manager is a mustachioed Indian fellow with really long fingernails. Apparently he erred in this whole room-switching thing, and I should have been put in my permanent room from the get go. Rebel, the day manager is a squat woman with a really long mullet. She’s vastly more on top of things than Bipin. Only in America can these two characters be colleagues. Well, I suppose it’s fair to say that only in America would someone name their daughter Rebel, but you get my meaning.

In Hermitage, TN, I stopped at an Advance Auto Parts because my wiper blades had become entirely ineffective. I couldn’t even tell if they were making contact with the windshield anymore. I told Donny, the guy helping me, about my project and he said, “Oh, my team is USC. That was a rough one this week.” He grew up in the LA area, but has been in Hermitage for 14 years. In that time, he’s developed quite a serious drawl – I was shocked to hear that he wasn’t from the area – and an affinity for statements like, “This thing is slower than pond water.” Encountering Donny was a great reminder of the universality of this game. There’s someone in the middle of Tennessee who hates Jim Harbaugh right now.

Trev Alberts used to have a column on I seem to remember bloggers and various other people having a lot of disdain for him and his work. I can’t recall any of his articles, save one where he lauded the tastiness of Chick-Fil-A. Being from the north, his compliments were totally unactionable. We don’t have the restaurants in Chicago and I just wasn’t spending enough time in Chick-Fil-A country. Since Trev left such a big impression on me, I vowed to give it a shot. However, Sundays have been my biggest travel days on this trip. Chick-Fil-A is never open on Sundays because of religious concerns. So despite many hungry miles traveled through the southland, opportunities have been limited. I decided Monday was my day. But by the time I planned to grab lunch at the next Chick-Fil-A I encountered, I didn’t encounter another one. Lo and behold, I arrived in Harrisonburg to find was a spankin’ new Chick-Fil-A directly next door to the Econo Lodge. But by then I was totally famished. People who know me best are fully aware that I am no fun to be around when hungry. Rather than dropping fifteen bucks on chicken sandwiches, I opted for a strip-mall Oriental buffet named the Dragon Palace for ten. It wasn’t great food, especially since it was mainly warmed over dishes that had been out all night. But the quantity was stellar. I finally hit the bird joint on Tuesday and came away agreeing wholeheartedly with Trev. That was a damn fine chicken sandwich, even if the owner wouldn’t want me to say it that way.

I spent some time on the Bridgewater College campus today, and everyone was really excited for me to be there. It’s a far cry from the Texas/Oklahoma game where I couldn’t get through to the Athletic Departments. I already met with the Sports Information Director and the University President, who by all accounts is a very impressive guy. Some people have made comments about how their town is so small, but next to Crete, Nebraska, it’s a bustling metropolis. While quaint, the downtown area has a certain charm and is in great condition. I think every house I saw featured a front porch. It’s homecoming week, and all the alumni, staff and student excitement has already rubbed off on me. I can’t wait for the festivities to begin.

Tuesday, October 9

Washington Tailgate Report Is Up

Check out the latest Tailgate Report Card on SI On Campus here. As always, feel free to leave comments.

Sunday, October 7

Black is White, Green is Red, Mauve is Purple

Odometer: 8644
Location: Garland, TX

Seriously, what in God’s green earth is going on this season? If anyone can tell you they know what surprises lay in front of us, they’re lying. All we thought we knew we do not know. One of the many wondrous things about this game is that every season has different stories, different themes, and different heroes. The game will always provide its own drama. For all the glory showered on Boise State’s defeat of Oklahoma last year, no one could have predicted the excitement that game would produce. Those of us who saw it live experienced the icing on the cake of another totally unique year in college football.

Comparisons can be made of different teams, and people can try to apply labels to the story, but they can’t control any of it. The House of Mouse labeled this past weekend “Gutcheck Saturday” and was widely mocked across the internet for doing so. Because they can’t paint a weekend before it happens. For all their talk of gut checks, and despite an intense, fantastic game played by LSU and Florida, the biggest game of the week was one nobody paid mind to until it was over. After seeing USC play twice in person, I’d been telling people that there was no way they would go undefeated. That their wideouts drop too many passes. That their defense can make some plays, but can’t consistently shut opponents down. That the Pac Ten is just too tough for them to run the table this year. But never in a million years did I think they would lose to 41 point underdog Stanford.

A while back, I had a conversation with Brandon from MWCB and he said, “This has been one of the most exciting seasons I’ve seen in my life.” That was two weeks into the season. Before Oklahoma lost at Colorado. Before Auburn upset Florida. Before South Florida started the first half of their season undefeated. Before Cal and Oregon went down to the last few inches in the last few seconds. And before USC lost their first home game since September of 2001. And nobody knows what’s going to happen next.

Trojan fans, your Michigan counterparts know how you feel. You’re stunned. You don’t even know if this is really happening right now. It’s exactly like that time your first real girlfriend dumped you – seemingly out of the blue. You thought everything was fine, and you were at least going to last through to the next month or two. And then suddenly, it was over. All that time you put in, you thought you were really building to something. After the shock wore off, in the back of your mind, you started to understand that you should have seen it coming. The signs were there – you just didn’t want to notice them. So you said, “I can get over this. I can move forward and things will be OK.” Unfortunately for us, Oregon came to town and beat the holy hell out of Michigan – which of course was exactly like seeing that same girlfriend at the movies with the point guard on the basketball team just a week later, knocking us further down the ladder of despair. But eventually, you heal a bit. You bounce back and start believing a little more with each passing week. Of course, that’s only if your team manages to go back to winning. Lucky for you, Arizona is coming to down. According to Jeff Sagarin, they’re worse than both Stanford and Appalachian State, and I believe him.

Before anyone decides to label this the “Year of the Upset”, bear in mind that the season is only half over. We don’t have the first clue about what’s going to happen next. And that’s just one of the things that make this sport so special. No matter what the experts say, we’re in for a wild ride to the end of this one. I for one am happy to be paying attention no matter what they choose to call it.

Red River Whatchamacallit

Odometer: 8644
Location: Garland, TX

You read the internets. Surely by now, you've heard about the unfortunate events in Oklahoma City this past September. With that grisly story still fresh in my mind (and how I long for the day it becomes unfresh - it unfortunatley reminded me of this far, far worse story), I was eager to see this heated rivalry up close. Thankfully, no altercations remotely close to that particular incident went down, and the day proved fun and enlightening.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that AT+T managed to get a game already steeped in tradition and character to not only name it after their company, but also to change its moniker from the Red River Shootout to the Red River Rivalry. ‘Cause we can’t have shootouts in this day and age. Not in Texas. Won’t someone think of the children?!? I’ve had the John Wayne / Montgomery Clift movie Red River with me on the road this entire time with every intention of viewing it before October 6th. Alas, there just has not been any time for movie watching. Maybe when I get home in December, I’ll finally give it a look. I presume it has nothing to do with football, but it would have been fitting to watch it this week. I arrived at the State Fair of Texas early and roamed the parking lots. The first people I encountered was a group of political activists who were there to do the same thing I was (go around and talk to people), albeit with an entirely different purpose. This is certainly not a political site, but they were nice enough and for some reason begged me to mention their man here. I guess they’re looking for any media attention they can get, even if it’s some lonely blogger. So…. Ron Paul! For what it’s worth, I’ll give the same treatment to any candidate except Rudy Guliani or Carol Mosely Bruan. I know she’s not running again, but I figured just in case she changes her mind, I’ll be safe.
Anyway, it was very disorienting for me to see people streaming into the fair immediately after parking their cars. After six games, I’m so accustomed to the tailgate scene, I felt like everyone was lost and needed my help in directing them. Not everyone eschewed the parking lots, though. As I got out of my car, a man named Mark was setting up his grill and someone shouted to him, “What’s for breakfast?” With a grin and a chuckle, he replied, “Steak!” Later, he and his wife fed me a grilled sausage wrapped in a tortilla which I highly recommend as it was easy to manage and delicious. The weather was intermittently terrible, toeing the line between aggressive mist and heavy sprinkles. With a brief shrug, everyone kept referring to it as “Texas weather.” I don’t think I like Texas weather. It’s too hot to wear your raingear and too wet to write in your notebook. Once in the fair, I barely caught the tail end of a Red River Shootout tradition – the ceremonial banging on the opposing team’s busses. I only managed to see the Oklahoma band harassed. From what I hear, the players and coaches received a lot of yelling, banging and fingerhorns pointed skyward or earthward, depending on the affiliation of the fan. Beer was flowing as was cotton candy and all sorts of other fair treats. Families with little kids mixed with drunken college students and alumni. Every few minutes calls of “Boomer! Sooner!” or “Texas! Fight!” would erupt. Except for the time when ESPN Radio tossed around free t-shirts, everyone was well behaved. Many Oklahoma fans wore crimson tees that addressed Texas, either with “Texas” written upside down, or “Book ‘em Horns” emblazoned across the chest. I only saw two Texas shirts ripping OU. One said “Oklahomo.” The other had a picture of this kid.

Did Big Tex wet himself? Based on his shrug, it looks like he's not sure, either.

The state fair is really not my cup of tea. I definitely had a fun time there, but I can’t imagine going back to any state fair – unless of course there’s an excellent football game to be played. It was ridiculously crowded and nearly every attraction, ticket booth, and food stand had a long line. Plus, this turkey tried his darndest not to show his face to me, no matter how long I waited with my camera.
The one type of booth that had no lines whatsoever was the copious amount of corporate tents and exhibits. Everything from Jacuzzis to makeup to kitchen supplies were on display. In some of the buildings, they had demonstrations with areas set up for an audience. This photo is from “the Cooking Show.” Don’t these people seem enthralled? And of course no one wants to sit up front. Just like school. I got a face-value ticket in the Texas student section. Quite a few of the kids there had consumed way too much alcohol. They had enough trouble standing, let alone following the game. But they all stayed to the end of the game and cheered on their team. The only truly egregious problem was when they started screaming before the snap when their team was on offense. Perhaps with half the fans in the stadium rooting for the Sooners, it didn’t matter. The setup for this game is so unique. It was crucial that I get into the stadium because you get to see the clear demarcation of fan bases. It doesn’t show up perfectly in the above photo, but live it’s really quite impressive. One end of the stadium is constantly cheering while the other is silent or groaning. I think it’s a much better division than the usual format for neutral site games. That way, each team has a home and away end. I suppose if it was really windy, one team would have an advantage, but that would have to be some remarkable gale. A woman was selling powerade and had two varieties, fruit punch and orange. I asked her which one was selling better, and she said, “Oh, easily the orange.” She was of course working the Texas end of the stadium. The Cotton Bowl has a rep as being an old, rundown stadium, but I didn't find it to be so. I know they recently did some improvements, so maybe that had an impact. The only issue arose when it was time to leave, and severe, inclement Texas weather was rolling in, everyone had to leave the stadium immediately lest they be struck by lightning. The throng getting out of the stands and down the ramps was a crowded mess, but all were well-behaved.

Of course, the game was excellent. Texas nearly managed the upset, but Oklahoma made a few more of the big plays and caused the big turnovers. Because they were supposed to win, maybe everyone came out not totally disappointed, but not enthused, either. I wolfed down a Fletcher’s Corny Dog. With my remaining tickets, I had to try the deep fried cookie dough. It tasted just like you’d expect it to taste. Magnificent.

Friday, October 5

Three Days, Three Timezones, Two Brothers

Odometer: 8644
Location: Garland, TX
States visited: Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas

First, a couple quick notes about the U-dub game that warrant mentioning. The lead story in Thursday’s Seattle Post Intelligencer discussed the declining state of Husky Stadium. There are older buildings in use around the country, but it’s certainly an old gray mare of an arena. Perhaps the weather has taken a toll, or maybe it just wasn’t built well enough in the beginning. In a word, it’s crumbly. The other issue is that there is a track going all the way around the field. Since I had a press pass, that made it great for me in terms of roaming space. But it also means the fans are eight lanes away from the field. The crowd was very loud, particularly in the student section. I have to think they’d be far more intimidating if they were moved to lane three. The visitors had to sit in the east endzone which are positively rotten seats. The Trojan fans barely moved throughout the game because they were cold and unhappy. This was not USC weather. The band and song girls wore rain gear, even though most of the game it was barely misting. So we hit the road with an even bigger drive ahead of us. The hills west of Seattle look like they were plucked out of an elementary school diorama. Tree-covered rises support curving roads that later plunge into valleys formed by rivers centuries ago. In many cases, the rivers are long gone, replaced by roads, railways, and underbrush.

In what I believe is my first trip to Oregon, I found the state a bit backasswards in that people are very quick to give you the finger and you can’t pump your own gas. I see no remotely possible connection between those two issues, but they coexist somehow. I was flipped the bird on three occasions, each of which was based on some completely innocuous lane change. Maybe everyone in the state is peeved that they don’t get to pump gas and they take it out on unsuspecting drivers sporting Illinois plates. Each time I feel I’ve seen all the landscape American has to offer, a new state gives me something else to appreciate. In Oregon and Idaho, it’s a largely vacant area where the hills resemble a tawny, frothy ocean. There are no people, homes, or livestock. Just tumbling knolls as far as the eye can see. From Utah on into Wyoming ridges separate expansive valleys until finally in Colorado, it becomes one giant valley that presumably stretches all the way to Clemson.

I had no idea quite how cheap Motel 6 is. I knew there wouldn’t be any breakfast or internet access, but the lack of shampoo shocked me. They don’t even have a map of the state anywhere on the premises. Our shower looked like it was something out of the future, though not a particularly swanky one. It could have been a really crappy time machine for all we knew.

West of Boise, Idaho is loaded with cattle. When you are flying by at 75 miles per hour, the animals appear petrified. Cows don’t move that quickly to being with, and I’m sure they’re not spooked by the traffic, but they could have been made of stone and we wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. Yet they smelled oh so alive. I would call eastern Idaho the armpit of America, but that would only be apt if I knew someone who smeared feces in his armpit. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Kansas was mostly traversed at night, which is really the way to do it. Riding shotgun, the moon and stars mesmerized me. Even when I drove, I stole glances skyward whenever the road straightened, which, in Kansas, was often. A sunny drive south through Oklahoma featured lonely oil drills scattered in farms on either side of the road. They faithfully pumped away, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. Butterflies incessantly crossed the road, though many of them met with my windshield and were instantly relegated to butter. We overtook the ESPN Gameday caravan on its way from Eugene to Baton Rouge. It consisted of roughly six gigantic semis with the orange Home Depot bus bringing up the rear. I've been joking that they are following me around, and when we saw them on the road, I was sure they were heading to Dallas. But suprisingly, they're doing a CBS game this year. Woooo integrity! Dallas nightlife is not best experienced on a Wednesday, but after all that driving, we had earned our TexMex and beers, dammit. The bars were relatively dead, though we met some cool people and witnessed a few true Texans. This morning I dropped my brother off at the airport where they charge a one dollar fee to do so. No, I didn't park - just pulled up and let him out. They do that if you're picking someone up, too. I was amazed. I bid my bro farewell and he went back to leading his own life and handling his own affairs after pitching in on mine for the last ten days. I will miss him dearly. Tomorrow is the Red River Whatchamacallit at the State Fair of Texas, and I can’t wait. Boomfight Texers!

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