Most arrogant fans
I was nervous when I visited Ohio State. Nervous because they tend not to look kindly upon people who graduated from that school up north. My concern was enhanced by the fact that nearly every place I went, fans relayed their Buckeye horror stories. I decided that I would have an "ask and I'll tell" policy regarding the site of my education. The funny thing was, I had nothing to worry about. Not one person asked me about it the entire weekend. This was a major surprise. Every place I visited had its share of bragging and arrogance, but in Columbus, they took this to another level. They were #1 in the country at the time, but the fact that they weren't the least bit interested in any other programs speaks volumes. People treated me as nicely as they did anywhere else, but a certain air of superiority was present, particularly with the older fans. At the end of the weekend, I concluded that not only are the they most arrogant folks around, they'd be proud to hear me say so.
#33 looks hungry - and is apparently the TV Title Holder.
I should preface this award by stating that there is a clear correlation between the calendar and attractiveness of the women. Tennessee didn't fare all that well in this category, but because it was an 11:30 am kickoff late in the season the deck was stacked against them. (And people kept claiming it was cold. Clearly none of them have lived through a Chicago winter.) Furthermore, the excitement of a home opener seems to bring out the latest sundress technology. While I was extremely impressed by the talent on display at Georgia, USC, Texas, LSU and even Michigan (in freezing cold weather!), Clemson took the cake for me. Maybe it was just 'cause it was my first southern football game, or maybe I spent enough time with the right sororities, but there's a reason SIOC kept using this picture over and over again:
I have no idea what these girls' names are.
This is without question LSU. Clemson folks proudly claim that they have the loudest decibel rating on record. That may be the case, but I've never heard anything quite like that LSU crowd. They beat Virginia Tech 48-7, and screamed relentlessly right up to the last seconds ticking off the clock. Kids, old folks, boys and girls all got into the act. My favorite moment was when they showed the Alabama score and the nine year old kid sitting behind me hollered, "I HATE NICK SAYBAHN!" His four year old brother added, "I hate Nick Saybahn, too."Drunkest Fans
The oft-heard cheer goes, "When you say Wiiiiiisconsin, you've said it all." That the brief chant is taken from a Budweiser commercial is only fitting. Well, kinda. They brew Bud in St. Louis not Milwaukee. But anyway, when Wisconsin hosted Iowa in their Big Ten opener, I was blown away by the raw amount of drunkenness on display, particularly by the students. People party at games all across the country, but nobody drinks more aggressively than the students in Madison. It was named Playboy's #1 party school in the country for a reason. I mean, look at how this guy ended up:
That's right. They were playing Iowa.
Best Marching Band
With all due respect to the Wisconsin band and their festive fifth quarter, they didn't manage to win this award. As mentioned in my post the other day, I love fight songs more than ever, and have an even greater appreciation for the sweat these often unrecognized college kids put in every week of the fall. Almost all the bands sounded great and blasted their exhortations with verve. But one did manage to outdo the others. The kids at Ohio State don't just get the crowd whipped into a frenzy, they high-step their way with such technical precision that it appears they are all operating with the same brain. It's truly a thing of beauty. So congrats to the Buckeye band, even if you did get the Script Ohio idea from Michigan.
The most oft-heard phrase in Lincoln at stop #4 was "Tommie Frazier," but right behind that was "corn-fed beef." I had my fair share of red meat that day, but nothing compared to Vaughan Blum's steak sandwiches. He and his compatriots brought 300 pounds of steak and freshly baked french rolls. It was enough to feed the whole team! Tasty, delicious, and succulent all at once, it will always be one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Lincoln.
Best Individual Item I Ate
Believe me, I have never had a time where I was consistently treated to more quality eats in my life. At nearly every stop, people who had labored hard over their best outdoor culinary efforts brought a smile to my lips and warmth to my belly. I am surprised by my choice for this award, but I have to admit, there is one particular item that stands out to this day. I can still recall every detail of its flavor and texture and how absolutely glorious it was. No surprise that it was likely the least healthy thing I consumed. However, the fact that it was served in a cardboard racecar I could never have predicted. That item was deep fried cookie dough procured at the State Fair of Texas. Hot, sweet, and rich with chocolaty goodness, it surpassed all expectations.
I could see in its eyes that this turkey would have loved a taste.
Least Friendly Fans
I don't want to be misinterpreted here, because everywhere I went, I was met with politeness. But outside of the gang at the Beershoes tailgate, the University of Washington tailgates were a series of nice, but somewhat reserved folks. It was easily the hardest I had to work over the course of this trip, and even after I nudged my way into parties, people were not all that forthcoming with information. Everyone was very nice, but they didn't even seem that interested in neighboring tailgates. The fans are every bit as passionate there. I am told by friends in the know that it's simply how things are in Seattle.
These guys were awesome, though.
Let me be clear, I didn't go to a single ugly campus (well, OK, the Rutgers Piscataway campus is considerably dumpy, but New Brunswick has a rustic, urban-lite charm). Clemson, nestled in the Appalachian hills, Georgia, with its pretty downtown section, Notre Dame, particularly by the grotto, Tennessee, the Hill on the river, Bridgewater, with its quaint small-town charm, and Wisconsin, perched on two lakes all left lasting impressions. But USC really takes things to a whole new level. The surrounding area is a typical Los Angeles urban environment (read: GTA San Andreas). But the campus itself has clearly had truckloads of money poured into it. From the Romanesque facades to the perfectly manicured greens and flower beds, it was unlike any other campus I visited. No wonder they get all those recruits.
This is a school? Looks like the Hearst mansion.
"Shag" Shaugnessy, Harvard alum and team captain from 1958, tailgates at every Crimson home game. After the team dispatched Princeton, he arrayed a series of bottles of the good stuff under his tent. I can't recall which brand I sampled, but it was excellent. The most memorable moment happened when he tried to get a senior student to give it a taste. The young man couldn't handle the intensity and returned to his Miller Lite.
Shag holds court at postgame.
Random thing that brought the biggest smile to my face
As it turned out, nearly all the games I hit ended up being evening kickoffs, and at the Iron Bowl, that meant extra time to party. At one point, I crossed paths with a family rounding a corner between tailgate lots. Straggling behind was grandma, looking a tad disoriented and holding in a small plastic cup the Auburn blue remnants of the jello shot she had clearly just consumed. I can't begin to describe how happy this made me.
Didn't get a photo of grandma. These cheerleaders made me smile, too.
My favorite "from the car" photo
I'm going to have an upcoming posting that's all photos and captions because I have so many good ones. But this is the only one I tried to make artistic. I thought it turned out pretty well, no?
My favorite game photo
My camera certainly showed its prowess at capturing the beauty of coeds around the nation. But action shots were where it faltered a bit. There were many decent ones, but I dig this shot from the Red River Shootout the most. Nobody's really moving yet, but you see some horns in the air and can imagine how much more difficult it was for Oklahoma's offense to deal with crowd noise at this end of the stadium.
Best game I saw in person
Before the trip began I of course envisioned seeing upsets or dramatic finishes every week. But that's just not how college football works. Your expectations are often dashed (just ask all the fine folks I met in Lincoln before USC's offensive line put the hurt on 'em). Still, I was able to catch my fair share of quality contests: FSU/Clemson, Iowa/Wisconsin, USC/Washington, Rutgers/South Florida, and Florida/Georgia were all competitive and exciting in their own regard. But nothing compared to the drama and thrills of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. When Justin Beaver scampered for 70 yards to seal the upset and National Championship with just minutes to play, I have to admit, I lost my mind a bit (and joyously hollered the word "Beaver!" over and over again). It was a tremendous way for me to finish the season. Check out these highlights if you don't believe me.
Most Satisfying Experience
Gosh, here's where I get humble and proud at the same time. I can't remember if I've written this before, but on my way home from the west coast - after the USC game, I had a somewhat bizarre epiphany somewhere between Salt Lake City and Cheyenne. It was before the nasty weather pummeled me across the plains. I thought about all the fun I'd had, and all the sights I'd seen, and all the people I'd met - old friends and new. I became a bit overwhelmed. Maybe it was the first time I had a moment to step back and think about the big picture. I can think about all the games and all those people - every hilarious comment, generously donated beverage, and comfortable home. But I guess what this trip has truly given me above anything else is a renewed appreciation for my country. The stunning sites we have to visit are only surpassed by all the wonderful people that call this place home. I have always known this, but now I really get it. Now it's a part of me. I can't pinpoint any one moment that sums this up (though if you could put the Grand Canyon, screaming LSU fans, Shag's Scotch collection, a pile of barbecue, and Tiger Rag in the living room of my college house, you'd be a third of the way there). I guess what I'm saying is, thank you to everyone I met along the way. It was the most exciting time of my entire life and I owe you all a lot more than the feeble praise I write in this space.
One last thing I want to mention today. I came across a blog of another guy who's doing a cross-country trip. His name is Daniel, an Army veteran who lost his right arm in Afghanistan. Check out his blog here. A bit more inspiring than my journey, perhaps, but I know at the end of his road, he'll surely have many of the same feelings I do.
I'll have at least one very big announcement here very soon, but I'm not tipping my hand on it just yet. Until then, I keep sparring with my own prose, doing my best to put together something people will want to read. Shoot me a note if it's been a while or ya just want to say hello.