Thursday, December 27

In Defense of the Bowl System

It is officially the season of the outraged interloper in college football. Pundits from all corners of the sports journalism profession love to spend their holidays complaining about the game so many of us hold dear. Whether they have written about or discussed the game at any point during the season is irrelevant and it’s time for everyone to jump on their soapbox. Permit me a moment to climb atop mine.

At the end of the most surprising and remarkable year on record, many have claimed that the bowl matchups leave much to be desired and that playoff brackets are the only solution. Even my friends over at SI.com devoted a series of columns addressing this supposedly broken system. Several weeks ago, they stated that pretty much every college football fan in the nation can agree on at least one thing: The BCS needs a makeover. What followed was an online symposium on how to fix it. But I must beg the question, how broken is this system?

First of all, we do have a playoff. It is a one game, two team playoff for which all I-A teams are eligible. As many people have pointed out, no matter where you draw the line, someone will gripe about their relative worth, saying they deserved to be above the cut line. The greater the number of teams included in a playoff, the more teams can reasonably argue that they belong. The BCS is now ten years old. In those ten years, there has been one and only one team that had a legitimate gripe at their exclusion. In 2004, Auburn went undefeated and finished third. Every other team that was “shut out” lost a game somewhere along the way. If they wanted to point fingers, honest people would have to start with themselves. Did Auburn “get screwed”? Probably. One can only assume they would have fared better against USC than Oklahoma did. But at least their fans didn’t have to sit through Ashlee Simpson’s halftime performance. Small consolation, I know. Adding even two more teams to the mix makes choosing the participants that much more complicated. If there were four this year, who would the other two be? Virginia Tech, USC, Georgia, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Kansas…? You get my point.

Due to its remarkable nature, this season should not be used to make any long-term decisions. That said, didn’t the BCS get it right? Does anyone really have a clear case ahead of the two teams we ended up with? Ohio State lost by one score to an (ahem) BCS bowl-bound team. LSU lost two games in triple overtime and has some pretty darn good wins on their resume. An argument for any other team would require some rather tortured logic.

Both SI.com and ESPN.com had a users “pickoff” where they set up playoff brackets and had people choose who would win hypothetical games. On SI.com, USC defeated Oklahoma. ESPN had the Sooners winning. Let’s say that this is what actually occurred. USC would have become the only team in college football history to win a national championship despite having lost a game at home in which they were favored by 42 points. Oklahoma's resume is hardly championship caliber either. My point is that allowing more teams a crack at ultimate victory is a fundamental change to a sport that has been awarding titles for over 100 years. To institute a playoff with more than two teams means that we are no longer awarding the title to the team that has had the best season, but rather the one that has had a good enough season and is playing the best at the end of the year. Like them or not (and most of you don’t like them), USC is not a title-worthy team. Not according to what the college football national title has meant for the last century. We’ll come back to this point.

In the course of my travels, I’ve met fans from 24 different I-A programs. I’ve been able to note some overarching trends. Regarding the prospect of playoffs, every single person I spoke with aged 28 and under avowed that “we need a playoff.” Fans 29 and older were split, with roughly 70% of them in favor of the current system and 30% demanding playoffs. (Note: At Auburn, it was pretty much 100% playoffs for obvious reasons.) What can we glean from this? Jon from Tennessee pointed out that when the BCS came into existence, people from the younger group were 18 at the oldest. They have essentially been raised in the era of the BCS. However, they’ve also been raised in the era of outraged interlopers. Have they been brought up as frustrated, tortured fans, or has the media persuaded them to be frustrated? Have they really given the concept proper consideration or are they simply repeating what Skip Bayless and Michael Wilbon have told them? It’s a chicken or egg thing to be sure.

A comment I heard frequently from pro-playoff fans was, “Look at the NCAA basketball tournament. It’s great! Who doesn’t think a football tournament would be great?” Certainly, a bracket full of football teams would be exciting. However, no one ever seem to mention the flip side to that coin. What about the basketball regular season? It’s on right now. Are you watching it? Does any of it matter? Compared to say, Rutgers/South Florida? Are you going to watch the Rutgers/South Florida basketball game this year? March Madness gives us all three weeks of excitement and makes Vegas a fortune. But its impact on the regular season cannot be underestimated. I was at LSU/Virginia Tech in Week 2. If we had an eight-team playoff, that game wouldn’t have really mattered. With the BCS, it served as the Hokies’ elimination. You don’t think that added to the excitement level?

What of the Northwesterns, Arizona States, and South Carolinas? Let’s be realistic. These teams will rarely, if ever make a playoff slate of 16 teams. A bowl game is their goal, and if they somehow make it to New Years Day, they’ve had a heckuva season. With a playoff tournament, the lower-tiered bowls would not only lose the small level of relevance they currently hold, the money for them would shrink to the point where we would lose them. Northwestern would have little to play for and their program would likely dry up. If you believe people would still tune in for bowl matchups, my counterpoint to you would be the NIT. It is completely ignored – a consolation game relevant to no one.

I close by simply stating, this is college football. It is different. Every game matters. It’s the difference that makes it the greatest sport on the planet. With even a four team playoff, Ohio State vs Michigan last year would have been just another rivalry game. Kansas vs Missouri this year would have merely been another border war. Ho hum. Interlopers may not understand that it is precisely what differentiates this sport from the others that makes it so incredible. But that’s because they don’t watch it. Not like we do.

Finally, check out this recent article from the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein in support of the same argument.

Please feel free to refute, discuss, and argue in the comments section.

Monday, December 24

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

I suppose if Terry Tate can take a break, maybe we all can. I hope all my readers have a happy and safe holiday with family and friends. And try not to work too hard. At least not until Terry's back in the office...

Friday, December 21

Looks Like I'm Home Tonight

Odometer: 21,635
Location: Chicago, IL

States Visited: Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois
Total States Visited: 43
Total Pounds Gained: -1.5


I grew up in Chicago. I took drivers ed during the winter. I know how to handle the snow. But I’m not stupid. With blizzard conditions predicted for Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, I opted to take the long way around. A trip along the length of Tennessee meant that I would fittingly pass by Knoxville, the city I’ve encountered more than any other along the way. The early part of the drive was made difficult by powerful blasts of wind. Just keeping the car on the road became a challenge. I feared an incredibly long day and perhaps another stay at Motel 6. But once I got into the Volunteer State, it was smooth sailing.

Tennessee passed without issue, and my time in Kentucky was brief. My first thought after crossing the Ohio River with over five hours remaining on the trip, “Illinois is really long!” A little before I got to Champaign, I encountered the results of the storm I chose to avoid. It was clear I had made the right decision. Illinois had become a hazardous tundra, particularly in the left lane. Once again, I saw cars being towed out of ditches. This was nothing compared to my ordeal in Nebraska and Iowa the previous week, but I was beset with concern nonetheless. I returned to find my city shrouded in relatively fresh snow and in hibernation due to temps in the teens. Of course, after 14.5 hassle free hours behind the wheel, my car got stuck in the snow while entering my garage. So the road trip wasn’t truly over until I shoveled the Corolla free. At least I finally got some exercise.

Somehow I lost 1.5 pounds on this trip. My original plan was to go jogging at every stop along the way, but the wrecked knee changed all that. I’ve eaten more fast food than at any point in my entire life, bracketed by tailgate chow and beer every Saturday. Before you get excited, ladies, the pounds are somehow less, but the presence of a belly shows that I’m clearly not in the kind of shape I was when I hit the road. The only viable conclusion is that I’ve lost a ton of muscle. Or maybe it’s just one of those mysteries that we’ll never fully understand. Knee surgery is set for early January. Hooray!
My trusty steed

I have yet to mention the various ginormous crosses that can be found along America’s interstates. I saw my first one in Tennessee en route to Clemson way back on September 2nd. I encountered at least three others in various parts of the country. The original, I believe, is the one in the Texas Panhandle. Signs in advance of the structure urge motorists to stop at the “Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere!” The one in southern Illinois has a website. They all appear to have the same dimensions, and I don’t believe any of them has a church at their site. Call it advertising, a beacon of hope, grandstanding, a heartfelt sign of devotion, or whatever you like. I’ll just say the same thing I said about Bipin and Rebel being colleagues at the Harrisonburg Econolodge. Only in America.So now I’m home. For good. That first game in South Bend doesn’t even feel like it was part of this season. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I figured it would be a fun time at the very least. This experience has surpassed every possible expectation. I was able to see so much of this wonderful country, something that everybody should take the time to do at some point.
The first photo

Of course, the football was fantastic, and the uniqueness of each stop was even better. The history and tradition on display at Notre Dame. The southern hospitality (and southern belles) I encountered at Clemson. The all-day party that is LSU football. The devotion to the game of football in Lincoln. The aggressive drinking and fabulous fifth quarter in Madison. The picturesque setting and fanbase craving better football in Seattle. The deep-fried goodness of the Red River Shootout. The small-town appeal of Bridgewater College. The new kid on the block enthusiasm of Rutgers. The old kid on the block appreciation for the finer things at Harvard. The raucous cultural opposition at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The unbridled devotion of Buckeye backers. The charming and endearing Volunteer fans at The Hill. The day I got to be a fan again in Ann Arbor. The radiant animosity on display at the Iron Bowl. The multi-cultural multiplicity in South Central. The greater community at the Stagg Bowl. With all those stops behind me, you’d think I could be cured of my wanderlust, but if anything, I now have a new urge to hit every college campus to see a game. Who’s with me?
New York Cares

The greatest thing about this endeavor, though, is surely the people I met along the way. Better than all the wonderful sights and terrain is the populous of our nation. I talked with more generous and friendly people than I could possibly count. At each of the above stops, I can claim somebody I encountered as a new friend. Many of them are listed above in the “Friends of the Program” section. I urge you to check out their work. They’re far better bloggers than I, and their devotion to their respective teams knows no bounds.
I finish this journey a bit in awe of everywhere I’ve been. I sometimes still can’t believe I did this, and am so incredibly glad I did. In fact, I find myself asking why I didn’t do it sooner. Though I’m staying put in Chicago for the foreseeable future, the season continues, and so will posting in this site, though it may change a bit. Please keep checking back for updates.I’ll close for now with a phrase I saw on a Nike running poster years ago, but is apropos for me today. For all of us, actually. “There are clubs you can’t belong to, neighborhoods you can’t live in, schools you can’t get into, but the roads are always open.” Amen.

Thursday, December 20

Stagg Bowl Pregame Radio

Audio from my appearance on D3football.com's Stagg Bowl pregame show is here. I, uhhhhh, didn't do as well as I'd, ahhhhh, hoped. But feel free to give it a listen by clicking here. Note: the audio starts off a bit crackly, but then gets better.

Monday, December 17

Stagg Bowl Highlights

I'm not sure who put this together, but they did a bangup job. For those of you who missed the game, catch most of the significant highlights here. The moment comes at 8:30 and still gives me chills.

Sunday, December 16

Stagg Party

Odometer: 20,692
Location: Salem, VA
States Visited: Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia


I was safe at home. Ready to pursue next steps and all that. My bed, my shower, my electric toothbrush – it all felt more comfy than ever. After that last drive, I would have to be insane to hit the road again. But I wasn’t ready for this season to be over. Are you? Isn’t the only thing better than football… more football? I wanted to hear those cheers one more time. I wanted another game. One I could cherish, savor and just enjoy, dammit. In my visit to Bridgewater College, my new friends told me of the fun they have each year at the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, the championship game for Division III. It’s an eleven hour drive from Chicago to Salem, but I considered that a small price to pay. Without spending too much time thinking about it, I found myself driving south on the Kennedy Expressway before the sun came up on Friday morning. When the Corolla’s odometer ticked 20,000 precisely at the Illinois-Indiana border, I chose to view it as a sign that I’d made the right choice. After all, I hadn’t been to a national championship game in ten years.


I have found throughout these travels that any trip under ten hours is no big deal to me. Anything over ten is another story. After eleven hours at the wheel, I arrived at the Quality Inn a bit out of it, though it was a peaceful eleven hours with relatively open roads and calm weather. Reuniting with the Stone Station folks, we hit a bar in Roanoke. I quickly found that the Stagg Bowl is more than a mere championship game. Fans of Division III travel from all over the country to take in the experience. I may have driven the farthest, but some had flown farther. It’s like a corporate convention, but way more fun. People compared notes, bought each other beers, and of course talked about the next day’s matchup. The weather report for Saturday was an ominous one. Freezing rain with temps at or below freezing. Lucky for me, my job entailed traipsing around the parking lot, which kept the blood flowing. For nearly everyone else, their job only required wearing purple and tossing back some brews. That led to many hiding out in idling cars to keep warm.

The gang at Stone Station, however, was hard at work from the time they arrived at 8am. All the fantastic food I had remembered from my trip to Bridgewater was on display and then some. There’s no way I’m going to adequately list all the delicacies available, but it included some of Llama Guy’s special recipe chicken, Skoal Train’s pulled pork sandwiches, Religion Major’s crab and vegetable soup, Peggy’s fried potatoes, Chris’ deep fried turkey and was topped off by O-Line Mom’s homemade brownies. I’m sure I’m leaving a ton of people out here – it was an incredibly impressive smorgasbord and was free to all. Please leave comments for the ones I forgot! People from all across the parking lot lined up for the grub throughout the day. This included the Whitewater band and dance team, the game’s radio broadcasters, families, and Mount Union and Whitewater students. After stuffing my belly like everyone else, I appeared on D3football.com’s pregame show to talk about my road trip. Ideally this will be the first of many broadcasts where I discuss what I have seen and experienced. It was very nice of them to have me on. Hopefully I did a decent job. I haven’t heard a recording yet, so I have no idea how it came off. Anybody tune in? If so, leave a comment or shoot me a note. Anyway, it was great fun, and show host Gordon Mann did a great job of making me feel comfortable and asking good questions. We focused mainly on the D-III and the Stagg bowl, and a big topic of conversation was the wide array of fans present in Salem. Aside from the large groups of folks from the two teams playing, I met and talked to people from Christopher Newport University, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Huntingdon College, Wesley College, and saw others sporting Randolph-Macon College and Ferrum College gear. What an array! I guarantee you won’t see that kind of participation January 7th in New Orleans. A huge percentage of the people here for this game are simply die-hard Division III fans. Of course they all joined in for communion.

Taste the rainbow

After sixteen other contests this season, you’d think I was burned out. Or maybe just jaded or something. The kids in purple helmets on both sides of the field played so hard, and with such determination, I can safely declare that this was the best game I saw this season. Better than South Florida/Rutgers. Better than USC/Washington. Better than Oklahoma/Texas. Better than Florida/Georgia. Those were all great games, but this one had everything. Monster hits, huge game-altering plays, major swings in momentum, multiple coaching adjustments, and passionate fans on both sides. It certainly didn’t hurt that the Stone Station gang saved me a seat with them in row 2 at the fifty yard line, but the game earned all the praise I’m giving it. When Justin Beaver scampered for a game-sealing 66 yard run, I found myself jumping up and down, cheering my head off. It was one of those football moments that makes this sport so incredibly special. A simple run up the middle began with the hope that Beaver could reach the first down sticks, and ended with one team’s euphoric understanding that they were about to be crowned national champions. Of course the flip side to that understanding was that Mount Union realized they were about to lose their fourth game this century and come just short in their bid for an unprecedented three-peat. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I came down to Salem to witness it.
After having their team photo taken with the championship trophy, in unison the Whitewater team shouted, “Miller Time!” I blurted out, “It’s a Wisconsin thing,” and a woman standing near me said, “That’s right – we don’t drink Budweiser!” Ah, Wisconsin. It’s not quite the “fifth quarter”, but hearing that took me back to my trip to Madison. That was my fifth game, but nearly 16,000 miles ago which makes it feel like forever and a day. It was at that moment that I realized I already missed this season. And it had only been over for ten minutes.

Everyone retreated to the parking lot just before a major torrential downpour. I helped the Stone Station gang pack up, but not before we all dug in to some more of Llama Guy’s chicken. Plans were made to go out and grab a drink, but I think in the back of everyone’s mind, we knew that we were cooked. The bitter cold takes a lot out of you, especially when coupled with a thrilling football game. So goodnight from the parking lot also served as farewell. I’m going to miss those folks, but only so much. I plan to return to both Bridgewater and Salem – maybe as soon as next season if I can swing it. I’ve got one more drive, and horrible, nasty weather is predicted directly in my path. Looks like it’ll be a long one. I don’t mind. I don’t want this trip to end, anyway.

Friday, December 14

Auburn Tailgate Report Card and Stagg Bowl Update!

We're going just slightly out of order, but only by a day. The Tailgate Report Card from the Iron Bowl can be found at SI On Campus by clicking here.

Also, I took a video of the players' on-field entrance. Dan Fouts would tell you that it's the last game of the year, and you can't hold anything back. Looks like those fans were ready. video

Finally, I'm in Salem, VA this weekend for the Stagg Bowl (D-III National Championship game - broadcast on ESPN at 4:30, Eastern). Look for me embedded with the Stone Station folks wearing red near the 50 yard line. Additionally, there's a chance I may be on a radio program with Pat Coleman from D3football.com on Saturday afternoon sometime between 2 and 4 pm, Eastern. The broadcast is on ncaafootball.com, but I am not sure exactly where to pick it up.

Update: If you go to this site, you should be able to get the stream. Again, no idea if I'll actually be on or when that would happen, but I'm sure it will be a good show either way.

All right. I hope I'm ready for my last hurrah. As Dan Fouts would say, "Last game of the season, can't hold-" "We know, Dan. We know..."

Thursday, December 13

USC TRC up at SIOC

Check out the latest Tailgate Report Card on USC here.

Unfortunately, I didn't see this guy or he probably would have made it into the report somehow:

Saturday, December 8

If you find yourself falling apart, I'm sure I could steer on...

Odometer: 19,952
Location: Chicago, IL
States Visited: Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois


After some much deserved friendtime and funtime in the wonderful city of San Francisco, it was time to make the long trip home. My last trip. This season has been the craziest on record, and I’ve managed to catch my fair share of nailbiters, upsets, and blowouts. When I started this project, I envisioned many of the moments. Aside from Michigan being held without a touchdown in my personal homecoming game, there’s not one thing I can complain about. So many fans have said to me, “Man, I wish I had your job.” I have not taken this experience for granted. But I was ready to be done. This trip has been simultaneously the most fulfilling and most exhausting experience I’ve ever had.

The timing of my west coast departure was dictated solely by the weather forecast. I had no interest in driving a Corolla over the Rockies in the middle of a blizzard. There appeared to be a clean window between snowstorms with a Wednesday morning departure. I beat most of the bay area traffic climbed over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and began my cruise through Nevada. After powering through some fatigue early in the day, I found myself feeling strong and cruising at a comfortable 88 mph. I said to myself, “Man if there’s a cop here, I’m definitely going to get a ticket at this pace.” Five miles later, Smokey stopped me in order to deliver said ticket. In my haste to beat the weather, I had gotten greedy and foolishly tempted fate. Ah, well, “Cost of doing business,” I decided.
A Gulf-Western company?

The sun began to set as I traversed the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. They are yet another stunning American scene to behold. In every direction, the land is impossibly flat for miles, but then surrounded by mountains. I desperately wanted to get out of the car and take in the view, but concerns over impending storms remained front of mind. By the time I arrived at the Great Salt Lake, night had fallen. Before I knew it, I was out of Utah, still feeling wide awake without any help from caffeine.

Driving along the southern Wyoming border, recurring billboards for a “family hotel” called Little America reminded me that this was the same road my brother and I took en route from Seattle to Dallas. That drive was six games into the season, but now feels like it happened two years ago. I can only imagine that I’m quite the changed man since then. Perhaps more gregarious and bold, but certainly more well traveled and appreciative of my own experiences. Somewhere between Salt Lake City and Cheyenne, I began reflecting on various moments from the trip; all the friends I’d seen, the new friends I’d made, the beautiful places I’d been. I began to get a little giddy, even giggling to myself just a bit. The trip was finally ending and it had been more worthwhile than I could possibly have imagined. Perhaps those thoughts gave me extra fuel because I powered well beyond my original goal for the day, not pulling over until a rest stop near Cozad, Nebraska. Having not slept in my car anywhere along the way, and given the fact that it was roughly 5:00 AM, central time, I figured it was high time. This probably would have been a lot more fun in the early part of the season when the temperature wasn’t hovering around 20 degrees. After two hours of bundled up sleep, I awoke to find blocks of ice where my feet should be. The fact that I was wearing shorts (more comfortable for driving) and rather thin socks (hadn’t given that one much thought) were likely to blame. I turned on my car and let it idle with the heat running, wasted gas be damned. At 8:30, I felt refreshed enough and pointed the Corolla eastward. Grandma claimed that I should be home in my apartment by 3:00, the thought of which being all I needed to push me the last 700 miles.

As I stared my last day, the roads appeared clear and relatively empty. Flashing signs warned of winter weather, but I figured that they were always in use during the winter months. I was wrong. Within 20 minutes, I caught up to an unexpected snowstorm that had made its way from Canada when the jetstream plunged southward. What followed was an absolute mess. Far from a blizzard, the weather channel would probably have declared the conditions “wintry mix.” The preponderance of ice could not be assuaged by the sand dispersed by Nebraska Public Works. Tires failed to grip, and cars spun out all across the heartland. I was genuinely terrified of losing control and winding up off the road or worse. Tractor trailers had no such concerns, cruising past me and other nervous autos at 65 mph. It was their turn to be the speed demons. The hope for improved weather on the other side of the Missouri river and the implementation of salt in Iowa kept me going. While the salt helped, the snow worsened and I immediately decided that I would stop at the first hotel I saw. 70 miles, three instances of losing contact with the road, and two and a half hours later, a Motel 6 appeared in West Des Moines. Exhausted and thankful for safe passage, I gladly paid for a room and ordered a pizza. It was 3:00 pm – the exact time I was supposed to have arrived home. In all, I probably saw 120 cars either wrecked or resting in ditches at odd angles, persuasive reminders that I had made the right choice. My only conclusion is that God wanted me to extend this road trip by one last day. I’m not complaining. I didn’t have to urgently be home for anything. Had I been a younger man, I may have been foolish enough to soldier on, hoping to make it back to my bed. My final leg passed uneventfully on Friday. I was still ahead of the storm that initially caused concern, and the unexpected one had already passed.

I kissed the ground when I arrived because that’s what you do when you’ve been gone for a long time and finally get to your home. After such a trek, I can only appreciate my home that much more. Not just my home in Chicago, but my home in America. I’m sure I’ll have some more profound things to say in the coming weeks, and will certainly share them here. For now, I’ll end this posting with a quote from the John Wayne western Red River: “There’s three times in a man’s life when he has a right to yell at the moon. When he marries, when his children come, and when he finishes a job he had to be crazy to start.” If that’s the case, then listen for me howling my head off tonight.

Thursday, December 6

We've Been on the Run, Driving in the Sun

Odometer: 17,678
Location: Coalinga, CA


Note: This posting should technically be dated the morning of Sunday, December 2. Just pretend that's when you're reading it.

With my fourth quarter about to come to a close, I had one last game to meet, greet, and eat. Fatigue had really gotten the better of me at this point, and while I knew I was going to miss this wonderful experience, it was hard to keep my focus with only one game to go.

I wanted to check out the USC campus and its coeds on Friday, but it rained the entire day, causing me to hole up in a bubble tea café. On their flatscreen, they aired Poetic Justice followed be The Last King of Scotland. Does anyone know if it’s normal to show R-rated movies feature violence, nudity, profanity and liberal use of the N-word in Los Angeles eateries? ‘Cause I can’t see this flying too many other places. Anyway, Saturday’s weather was much more cooperative – it was beautiful, actually, and I was surprised to see that it full of revelers by the time I arrived at 8am.
I still had no idea where anything was in Los Angeles, but Grandma knew the way and got me to the campus before LA traffic had a chance to slow us down. Ominous electronic signs declared the Coliseum lots “JAMMED”, even at my early arriving hour. All open lots were charging 50 bucks a car which is the most I’ve seen this entire season. Furthermore, it’s not like you’re going to tailgate in the Shrine Auditorium parking lot, so it’s truly highway robbery. Safety concerns be damned, I opted for street parking a mile away from campus, figuring the daylight would keep any folks with evil intent away from my car and its contents.
My trip to USC was a bit different than all the others because I had no contacts set up before my arrival. Usually, a blogger or friend of a friend, or a random person I met on the internet acts as a partial host, giving me the tips on what to see and expect. But no matter, at this point, I’ve become quite accustomed to crashing people’s tailgates and sampling their food in addition to their thoughts, feelings and concerns about the wonderful game of college football. When I saw an entire lamb turning on a spit, I knew I had to chat with the people doing the turning. In my conversation with a man named Jack, I asked one of my usual questions: “If you could change one thing about the game, what would you like to see be done differently?” After sixteen games at various levels all across the country, Jack was the first person to express his disapproval of the college overtime format. I happen to wholeheartedly agree with him, and have been consistently surprised that nobody else shared this opinion with me earlier. We bonded immediately. I also learned that they squeezed 32 lemons for the lamb’s marinade. I said, “that sounds like a lot of work,” to which the main squeezer replied, “You don’t want to know.” The campus was packed with people of all ages, genders, and races, with plenty of UCLA fans to boot. The crowd was in full revelry mode, but in a more laid back fashion than most of the places I’ve visited. That may have been in part due to the home team’s status as heavy favorites, but I have to think that it’s a SoCal thing as well. The diverse fan base meant diverse food as well, and I was lucky enough to sample various meats, many of which were served in tortillas. One Trojan fan chastised my choice of corn tortillas over flour. In Chicago, only the gringos go for flour, but perhaps in LA, things are different. Anyone have an inclination on that? I was also pleased to find Patron and Modelo Especial, a major step up from the Jack Daniels and Coors Light I’ve encountered across the rest of the country. Unfortunately, I never made it back to taste that lamb. I can only assume it was succulent and delicious.
Couldn't find my cardinal and gold shirt

Everyone told me I had to go see Tommy Trojan, the statue located in the heart of USC’s campus. Apparently there was great concern over UCLA pranksters because when I found him, Tommy was covered in duct tape so that he would not be painted in blue and gold. That’s right, the Trojan was wrapped for his protection.
Insert condom joke... now

I have to give major thanks to my doppelganger, Jonathan who managed to set me up with an excellent ticket for face value. At the gate, the woman working security told me, “You can’t bring that bag in because it’s a backpack.” I have brought my black shoulderbag in to 14 other stadiums this season without issue. I said, “It’s not a backpack, it’s a shoulderbag.” “Well, you can’t bring it in because it’s bigger than 14 inches.” “It’s exactly 14 inches, those are the dimensions. It’s been 14 inches since I bought it.” Not wanting to argue with me anymore, she allowed me and my bag passage. Turns out it’s 15 inches, but I’m glad she didn’t break out a ruler because my car was over a mile away. The Coliseum always looks huge on TV, but in person it has an intimate feel. Their mascot, a white horse named Traveler, sprints down the sidelines chasing a scrawny guy with a flag in his hat who surely runs for the cross country team. The band is quite good, though the sunglasses look comes off as rather cheesy to me. Between the third and fourth quarters, they light the Olympic Torch at the end of the stadium. It’s a pretty sweet tradition that no one else in the country can claim. UCLA played sloppy and erratic. There’s clearly some talent on the team, but they’re so horribly coached that they never stood a chance in this game. The home crowd never really made much noise or seemed overly engaged in the game. I’m sure the Bruins deserve part of the blame. The game ended on a four yard run by Hershel Dennis. The last play of my season. No profound thoughts came to me at that point. I’d had my share of wistfulness near the end of the Iron Bowl. But this time I was pretty much just satisfied with the journey. Relieved to be done, and more than anything, glad that I’ve done this. Had UCLA made it more of a game, perhaps there would have been some sort of climactic end for me, but the game just ended and that was that. Poo tee weet and whatnot. I returned to revel with some of the fans I’d met before the game. They were all pleased and eagerly looking forward to the Rose Bowl matchup against Ohio State. Apparently I missed a pretty significant brawl between friends at the next tailgate over. Nobody knew what sparked the incident, but all who witnessed agreed that it was surprisingly violent. Fight On, indeed.

And so that’s it. Well, sort of. I’m heading up to San Francisco to see some friends and have some fun. I think I’ve earned a little R&R.

Wednesday, December 5

Risky Business

All right gang,

I'm leaving San Francisco for Chicago early in the morning. I have a window where there appears to be no snow for one day. The plan is to get from SF to Cheyenne. It's 16 hours over the mountains. Wish me and the Corolla and Grandma luck. None of you people in Wyoming do any rain dances tonight, 'kay?

USC posting and further punditry to appear in this space upon my safe return home. Keep watching SI On Campus for tailgating insights and evaluation.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for joining me on this amazing journey. See you on the other side of the divide.

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